October 25, 1999
Rightist party elected in India
Atal Behari Vajpayee, leader of the Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was reelected prime minister October 3, while his party increased its influence in parliamentary elections. Vajpayee is the first prime minister to win back-to-back elections since 1971. Foreign and domestic bondholders hope his government, the sixth in the last four years, can produce a more stable regime. The BJP consolidated its forces by building a 24-party coalition —the National Democratic Alliance — drawing more heavily on other bourgeois nationalist parties as allies. The BJP increased its number of parliament seats only slightly, from 181 to 182 since last year's election. The seats of its parliamentary allies, however, jumped from 81 to 118. This includes Shiv Sena, described by an article in the October 8 Economist as "ultra-nationalists."
The Congress Party, which has traditionally dominated parliament, suffered big blows, getting 112 seats, down from 140 in 1998, with many fewer electoral allies.
Though the BJP reportedly diluted its nationalist, anti-Muslim rhetoric, it campaigned on credentials from its war against Kashmir rebels, whom it portrayed as Pakistani-backed, and on conducting India's first nuclear tests. The rightists also attacked Congress Party prime ministerial candidate Sonia Gandhi for being born in Italy. "The people don't want a foreigner as prime minister," sneered BJP spokesman, Arun Jaitley.
Yaswant Sinha, the regime's former finance minister, said the new government would pursue "a second generation of economic reforms," like selling off state-owned banks and industries. The new regime has raised fuel prices by 40 percent. Some 300 million people in India live in poverty.
Ankara attacks Kurds in Iraq
Thousands of Turkish troops stormed the Iraqi border in the final days of September, carrying out a mandate by the army brass to battle every Kurdish "terrorist" until they surrender or are "neutralized." Unconfirmed reports say that as many as 30 rebels have been killed. Guerrilla soldiers of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) had been fighting for independence, until they declared a unilateral cease-fire recently after PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured in February.
Eight Kurdish rebels crossed into Turkey and surrendered to Turkish troops, as part of their call for a cease-fire. A Turkish court ordered them arrested. They were charged with membership in an illegal organization, after four days of questioning by military cops. Under so-called antiterrorism laws, they were not permitted to see lawyers. The eight were jailed in the southeastern city of Mus.
British judge rules that Pinochet should be extradited to Spain
Acting on a warrant from Madrid that charged Augusto Pinochet with crimes against citizens of Spain under his rule, chief British judge Ronald Bartle ruled October 8 that the former dictator of Chile should be extradited to Spain. Pinochet's U.S.- and British-backed regime was responsible for the "disappearance" of thousands of people between 1973 and 1990. Pinochet's 1973 coup overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende.
The warrant from Spain charges the dictator with 34 counts of torture and one count of conspiracy to torture. Pinochet, who pled innocent to the charges, was nabbed by London cops on Oct. 16, 1998, while recuperating from back surgery. London, Madrid, and Washington will seek to use a show trial of their former — and now expendable — henchman as a precedent for new interventions around the world under the banner of "humanitarianism." Despite this reality, however, many liberal, social democratic, and Stalinist groups and individuals have supported the moves to try Pinochet in an imperialist court. Pinochet's defense is trying to spring him from the trial on the basis of his deteriorating health. While he awaits the outcome, British authorities have placed him under house arrest at a southwest London mansion he rents.
Brazilians protest gov't austerity
Eleven hundred participants in the "Peoples March for Brazil" completed their 1,000-mile journey to Brasília, the capital, October 7, culminating in a demonstration of 10,000 people to protest the government's gullet-choking "reforms." "IMF get out!" was a popular chant. Many of the austerity measures pushed by the government are aimed not only at meeting the needs of the Brazilian capitalist class, but also at satisfying the International Monetary Fund, which issued Brazil a $41.5 billion "bailout" loan last year. "Enough of FHC" read many posters and banners, referring to Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso's initials. Brazil's Congress, in the meantime, has approved a new set of "pension reforms." The bill provides incentives for workers to toil longer in a system that has no official minimum retirement age.
Caracas vies for land in Guyana
The government of Venezuela claims historical rights to a 56,000-square-mile, gold-rich hunk of land, called Essequibo, which is now part of its eastward neighbor Guyana. The regime has stepped up calls for negotiations on the disputed territory. At the same time, Caracas has increased troop movements on the border, including flying helicopter gunships over Guyanese territory. Spain colonized Venezuela and Britain colonized Guyana. The borders they carved ultimately left Guyana, which won formal independence in 1966, with Essequibo. Caracas never recognized the agreement.
Lima pushes wage cuts
Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, looking to compensate the ruling families he serves for the slumping economy and to satisfy the ever-present International Monetary Fund's demands for austerity, announced in late September measures that will further squeeze the rural and urban workers there. This includes imposing a 15-percent wage cut on some workers, as well as an increase in the tax on gasoline. Peru has faced depression conditions for at least two years.
Hundreds die in Mexico floods
Deadly mudslides triggered by heavy rains claimed the lives of at least 222 people in Mexico's coastal and southern region in the first week of October. In the state of Puebla, 166 were confirmed dead as of October 8. The disaster disproportionately affected peasants and other working people. Dozens of peasants were killed in small villages like Chicon-cuautla and Camocuautla, where evacuation took place. Villagers say that hundreds are still engulfed underneath the mud. In Tabasco, located along the Gulf of Mexico, some 82,000 people were in shelters and 75 percent of the capital city, Villahermosa, was flooded, four or five feet high in some places.
Millions lack health insurance
In a period of economic boom for the U.S. rulers, the number of working people lacking health insurance jumped to 16.3 percent or 44.3 million — an increase of 1 million since 1997, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. From 1987 to 1998, 12 million people joined the legions of uninsured toilers. "While most Americans — 70 percent — were covered by private insurance plans typically offered by their employer," read an article in the October 4 Newark Star Ledger, "many companies have scaled back or eliminated coverage. Close to 50 percent of poor full-time workers were uninsured in 1998. Some 35 percent of Latinos, 22 percent of Black, 21 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders, and 12 percent of whites have no health benefits, the article reported.
— BRIAN TAYLOR
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