The World Review: Cuba Progresses Whilst Venezuala Retreats

Rio strikers declare victory

An 8-day strike by binmen in Rio de Janeiro drew to a close last weekend after union members accepted a 37% pay increase. The vast majority of the city’s 15,000 waste collectors were protesting against low pay (the standard wage was just £60 a week) and poor conditions in contrast to much of the city’s population, which is benefiting from regeneration ahead of the World Cup in the summer. The strike was particularly effective given the chronic littering problem the city suffers- even the Mayor was fined after being sighted throwing litter. The entire refuse collection service had ground to a halt, prompting fears of industrial action in the summer.

EU opens talks with Cuban government

The European Union is seeking to restore “normal” diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time since 1996, in a bid to build on warmer relations between Cuba and the western world. However, EU officials say that bilateral relations with the dictatorship would be conditional on the latter making improvements in its approach to human rights. The foreign minister of Cuba said “On the basis of equality and mutual respect, Cuba is completely willing to discuss any topic, including human rights”. In reality, the negotiations are largely driven by the desire to ease trade between the sanction-hit island and the world’s largest trading bloc.

Venezuela’s police resort to tear gas

The movement that brought Hugo Chavez to power on a wave of popular support and overturned a US-backed coup in 2003, hemorrhaged international support last week as it came to resemble the authoritarians it claims to oppose. Police have resorted to increasingly harsh methods such as releasing tear gas to disperse “unauthorized” protests. Dissatisfaction with the government’s economic policies has prompted much of Venezuela’s middle class (working class people are conspicuous by their absence) to undertake widespread demonstrations ranging from the peaceful to the criminal. However, both President Nicholas Maduro and right-wing opposition leader Henrique Capriles have called for a “peaceful” national dialogue.

Privacy groups seek WhatApp buy-out block

The Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy, two ‘dig lib’ (digital liberation) groups, have sought to veto Facebook’s acquisition of the WhatsApp messaging platform in a complaint to the US’ Federal Trade Commission. The appeal was made on the grounds that Facebook is likely to amend the data usage terms of WhatsApp, giving them access to information provided on previous understandings between users and WhatsApp- which would amount to “deceptive trading”. The FTC will make a decision on either blocking or imposing conditions on the buy-out, but experts say that it is unlikely to take any action.

Libyan PM threatens to bomb oil tanker

In a desperate bid to regain control of his country’s oil reserves, the prime minister of Libya has issued a threat on TV to destroy an oil tanker controlled by separatist militia from the country’s eastern region. The tanker, currently docked on the port of Es Sider, bears the flag of North Korea and has a capacity of several hundred thousand gallons. Libya considers the oil to be state property, and is prepared to spill it in the Mediterranean (with dire environmental consequences) rather than have it sold illegally to provide funds for their armed rivals. The United States has said that the Libyan government alone is entitled to sell the fossil fuel reserves.

Malaysia opposition leader jailed

Anwar Ibrahim, who lead Malaysia’s opposition movement to its strongest general election performance last year, has been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for the alleged crime of “sodomy” with a male aide. Ibrahim has protested that the charges, which were previously dropped in 2008 due to lack of evidence, were part of a smear campaign in a country in which homosexuality remains socially unacceptable. Ibrahim’s supporters point out that any party leader who poses a serious threat to a government which has won every election since 1957 is likely to provoke an aggressive response.

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