Weekly News Review

23rd May, 2003

Cuba drops bid to join EU trade group


Cuba has for a second time withdrawn its request for accession to the Cotonou Agreement, which regulates trade relations between the European Union and the 79 countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP), most of them former colonies of current EU member states.


The decision is Cuba’s response to that of the European Commission to   postpone indefinitely all consideration of the Cuban request. The alleged pretext was the sentences imposed on the US-backed terrorists who were executed for hijacking a ship and threatening to murder those on it, as well as the trial and imprisonment of collaborators with US attempts to destabilise the island.


In a communiqué issued by the Cuban Foreign Ministry, the government explained that the decision "leaves Cuba’s request in limbo and intends to exert pressure on our country by setting forth unacceptable conditions and adopting an intrusive position in relation to Cuba’s internal affairs."


Cuba was encouraged to apply for membership by its Caribbean neighbours, as well as by the EU's less hostile attitude to its interests than that exhibited by the United States. However, the ministry explained "the unjust and unacceptable Declaration issued by the Council of Ministers of the European Union, the shameful alignment of the European Union with the frustrated US attempt to condemn Cuba at the Commission on Human Rights and the sanctimonious decision by the European Commission to indefinitely postpone all consideration on the Cuban request, have convinced the Government of Cuba that there is no groundwork laid to keep the application for admission into the Cotonou Agreement.


"Cuba desires increasingly extensive relations with the European Union – with which it shares profound historical and cultural bonds; from where it receives nearly a million tourists and with whose countries it is engaged in trade for almost US$ 1.9 billion per annum – but these must be based on mutual respect, on the non-interference in internal affairs and on the recognition of the right of each Party to freely choose its socio-economic system, its institutions and its laws.


"If the representatives of the European Union lived under a blockade that has lasted for over 44 years and had had to endure – as have we – aggressions, armed invasions, terrorist attacks, assassination plots against its leaders and a ruthless campaign of slander and deceit, perhaps they would better understand the injustice committed against Cuba within the European Union." 


European Parliament votes for stricter controls on GMOs in food - Labeling proposals would enable consumer boycott


Euro MPs voted this week to strengthen proposals from the Council of Ministers, which directly represents the fifteen member states, establishing a system for the protection of consumers' health and the environment from possible dangers posed by genetically modified organisms (GMOs).


The Parliament's influential Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection voted to:


- lower the threshold for accidental presence of material produced from GMOs in food and animal feed from the 0.9% proposed by the Council to 0.5%. This limit would apply only to GMOs authorised for sale within the EU.


- reject proposals which would allow the presence of up to 0.5% of unauthorised GMOs in food and animal feed in favour of a complete ban on any such presence.


- call for the introduction of effective segregation between GM crops on the one hand and conventional and organic crops on the other.


- ensure an effective system for the control of GM seeds.


- enhance the stringency of labelling requirements and prolong the period for which records of trade in GM products must be kept from 5 to 10 years.


- allow the Member States to take emergency measures if they have good reason to believe that a GMO which has been authorised is nevertheless causing health or environmental problems.


- make it clear that, whatever the details, the EU's approach to the regulation of GMOs is and will continue to be based firmly on the precautionary principle.


Danish Left MEP Pernille Frahm of the Socialist People's Party described the vote as being "of the greatest importance for the protection of consumers and the environment." Ms Frahm said "It was particularly important to reinstate the lower threshold for contamination established by the Parliament when we first considered these proposals. The Commission claims that levels under 0.9% are not detectable. This is simply untrue. Scientific experts have advised us that in fact a level of 0.1% would be perfectly possible for most GMOs. We have accepted 0.5% as a compromise figure. And as for GMOs not authorised for use in the EU, clearly no presence is acceptable."


Dutch Socialist Party (SP) MEP Erik Meijer was equally pleased with the outcome. According to Meijer, "perhaps the most important amendment was the call for an effective system to ensure as far as it is possible that GM crops do not contaminate conventional or organic crops growing nearby. One of the major aims of this legislation is to enable consumers to decide for themselves whether they wish to eat GM food. Unless segregation begins on the farm, it will not be possible to guarantee segregation on the supermarket shelf."


Left and Green MEPs generally agreed with Meijer's view that "while the system proposed is far from perfect, it would be enough to give consumers the chance to reject GMOs. We can then move on to the next phase of the fight to get rid of this dangerous, untried technology based on poorly-understood science, calling for people to boycott these products."


European Parliament upholds ban on Armenian genocide exhibition


The European parliament authorities have refused an appeal from left Euro-MP Jonas Sjöstedt against a decision to ban an exhibition on the Turkish genocide of Armenians during the First World War. Mr Sjöstedt appealed the ban, first reported in last week's Spectre Weekly News Review, but the Parliament's Quaestors, the body responsible for this decision, confirmed that they would refuse authorisation. The exhibition was to have been organised by the Armenian Association of Sweden under the sponsorship of Sjöstedt, of the Swedish Vänster (Left) Party.


Commenting on the Parliament's decision, Mr Sjöstedt said that  "we are very disappointed. As far as I am concerned no satisfactory justification has yet been forthcoming. I have merely been told that because the exhibition could 'provoke serious political objections' and had a 'controversial character', it would not be authorised.


"I would point out that there have been many exhibitions in this Parliament which could provoke political objections, and therefore political debate - the very raison d'être of the institution. We have had exhibitions on America's death row, on the liberation of East Timor, on the destruction of architectural heritage in Palestine and are expecting one soon to commemorate 10 years of the Brandenburg Memorials' Foundation, which preserves sites of historical and political importance from nazi Germany.


To deny the Armenians the opportunity to educate Europe's politicians on the genocide is a serious display of double standards. Not only because the Parliament has hosted many other exhibitions of a similar nature in the past, but also because it has already - in a resolution approved three years ago - recognised that the genocide took place. Therefore, there is no plausible reason why this exhibition should not go ahead. Admittedly, there are those who deny the genocide, but surely the Parliament is not afraid to allow an informed discussion on this debate."


Plans are now afoot to invite the Armenian group to hold the exhibition at a gallery near to the Parliament's complex of buildings in Brussels.


Low exposure, high risk

"Sixty-five million people will die from pollution caused by nuclear energy and weapons programs built before 1989, according to a report published earlier this year by a European

scientific committee. The research, from the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR), raises doubts about previous estimates of the risk posed to humans from exposure to radiation from nuclear power and weapons."  Read the rest here


Transition to Empire


WHEN General Jay Garner landed in Iraq and arrived in bombed and looted Baghdad he declared: "This is a great day." As if his presence miraculously ended the thousand and one problems afflicting ancient Mesopotamia. What is astonishing is not the obscenity of the statement but the resignation and apathy with which the media covered the installation of the man who should really be called the proconsul of the United States. As if there were no longer international law. As if we had gone back to the days of the mandates (1). As if it were now normal for Washington to designate a retired officer of the US armed forces to govern a sovereign state.   Read the rest of Ignacio Ramonet's analysis of US foreign policy here

What's next for the peace movement?

"Along with the global peace movement, its domestic counterpart was instrumental in forcing the Bush administration to deal with the United Nations; allowing even small, aid-dependent countries to stand up to U.S. diplomatic bullying, bribes and threats; and, finally, forcing the United States and Britain to wage their war in nearly complete global isolation." So where do we go from here? Read one activist's answers here