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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Venezuelans protest land seizures, street violence; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Protests against rampant street violence and government seizure of private land plagued the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in late August. One farmer, whose repeated hunger strikes drew attention to government arrogance, died in a military hospital where he had been held against his will for nine months.

The death of Franklin Brito, 49, was announced Aug. 30 by his family, who said Brito’s “fundamental human rights were violated,” the Associated Press reported. “They held him in the military hospital against his will for nearly nine months,” Brito’s daughter Angela told reporters. “They didn’t give access to doctors he trusted, even though he requested it.”

Venezuelan officials say they took Brito to the hospital trying to safeguard his life and never proposed taking Brito’s land, but instead tried to help him, the AP reported. They acknowledge, however, that Chavez’s government over the past eight years has seized more than 5 million acres of farmland, claiming they targeted fallow or underused property with the goal of boosting food production and helping landless families.

Critics say the seizures have included working farms and are hurting food output while benefiting Chavez supporters. Brito protested the 2004 invasion of his property by other farmers who had been given permits to work adjacent land — eventually cutting off Brito’s access to his own farm.

Chavez critics accused the government of moving Brito to the military hospital in December to make his protests outside the offices of the Organization of American States less visible, the AP reported. His eight hunger strikes, which began in November 2004, included publicity stunts like sewing his mouth shut and cutting off a finger in front of television cameras.

Two days before Brito’s death was announced, an estimated 1,500 people marched through Caracas to protest dramatic increases in street violence, the AP reported.

Venezuela has one of Latin America’s highest murder rates, with the government acknowledging more than 12,000 homicides nationwide in the first 11 months of 2009, the AP reported. The Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a public interest group that researches crime, estimated the country saw more than 16,000 homicides that year — up from fewer than 6,000 when Chavez took office in 1999. That would give Venezuela a homicide rate of 56 per 100,000 people — far higher than drug-violent Mexico’s 14 per 100,000, but lower than El Salvador’s 71 homicides per 100,000 people, the AP said.

In a televised speech, Chavez dismissed criticism that he has failed to take significant action on crime. “They want to attribute the violence to me,” Chavez said, according to the AP. “Violence is one of the visible and terrible effects of social injustice, of capitalism, of the model the bourgeoisie imposed on us.”

BAPTISTS IN ISRAEL CELEBRATE 100 YEARS — Baptists in Israel will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Baptist work in the Holy Land with a May 12-14, 2011, event in Nazareth, the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel announced Aug. 25.

“We would like to invite you to come and celebrate with us the momentous 100th anniversary of Baptist beginnings in the Holy Land,” the announcement said. “While we will be reviewing our historical beginnings at this event, we will also seek to discern God’s calling for the future.”

The program will include both local and international speakers and worship singers, as well as “a unique opportunity to learn more about what God is doing within the Baptist and evangelical churches in Israel today,” the announcement said. The celebration is being sponsored by the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel, the Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary and Nazareth Baptist School.

Baptist work in Israel dates to the spring of 1911, when Baptist churches in southern Illinois sent a Palestinian, Shukri Musa, “back to his people in Safed,” according to a 50-year history of the work written by Dwight L. Baker. One young man, Louis Hanna, accepted Christ and was baptized May 10, 1911, “in the stream that flows through Wadi el Lemun (Valley of the Lemon), near Safed.”

The main event will be held May 12-14, 2011, at the Golden Crown Hotel in Nazareth. A related tour package also is being offered. For more information, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.baptist.org.il.

MOZAMBIQUE RIOTS SIGN OF GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS — Food riots in Mozambique symbolize the frustration of poor people in many countries — from Asia to Europe — with a recent spike in world food prices, a United Nations office said Sept. 1.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, international food prices increased 5 percent in July and August to their highest levels in two years, the Associated Press reported. The agency also forecast the 2010 wheat crop would be down 5 percent over 2009 because of a drought in Russia.

The price of a loaf of bread in Mozambique rose 25 percent over the past year, and fuel and water costs also have risen, the AP said. Police in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, opened fire Sept. 1 when protesters began throwing stones, burning tires and looting shops. The government urged calm, saying the high prices were caused by a drop in the global value of the country’s currency.

The AP article also cited examples of other turmoil over sharp increases in food prices:

— Egypt: Recent protests over rising food prices left at least one person dead in a country where half the population depends on subsidized bread.

— Pakistan: Recent devastating floods destroyed a fifth of the country’s crops and agricultural infrastructure, sending the price of many food items up 15 percent or more.

— Serbia: Trade unions warn of demonstrations if a planned 30 percent increase in the price of cooking oil is implemented.

The U.N. agency said food supplies are sufficient in the United States, Canada and other countries and warned against panicked policy decisions, like banning exports, the AP reported. Higher food prices set by Mozambique’s government were based on monetary exchange issues, not concerns about world supplies, the agency said.

Marc Van Ameringen, executive director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, noted malnutrition causes stunted growth in 44 percent of Mozambican children and nearly 20 percent of those under 5 are underweight, the AP reported. More than 1 billion people around the world are chronically malnourished, and another 1 billion don’t get proper nutrition.

IRAN’S LEADERS FACE GROWING OPPOSITION — Iran’s leaders are unable to manage the country’s many problems and have lost legitimacy in the people’s eyes, with the result that they now face a growing opposition and are openly fighting with one another, an experienced observer of the country said Aug. 24 in a Wall Street Journal column.

“The Iranian regime loves to boast of its military strength, international clout and hold on domestic power,” wrote Michael Ledeen of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “Much of this is accepted by outside experts, but in fact the regime is in trouble.”

Ledeen cited the recent resignations of officers in the military’s elite Revolutionary Guard because of their support for the opposition “Green Movement,” as well as the defection of several journalists from the Guards’ FARS news agency. He also pointed to a series of attacks against Iran’s petroleum industry, supposedly by the opposition with “inside” assistance.

According to Ledeen, the opposition is fed by social and economic problems: unemployment as high as 45 percent in some regions, unsafe drinking water in Tehran, widespread electrical failures, long lines at gas stations and a shortage of compressed natural gas.

In response to the mounting pressure, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has reaffirmed his authority with a “fatwa” declaring his opinions had a status equal to those of the prophet Muhammad, Ledeen wrote. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also tried to buttress his support by apparently fabricating a story of an assassination attempt on his motorcade.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi boldly launch verbal attacks on the regime, Ledeen noted. When the head of the powerful Guardian Council recently accused Green Movement leaders of receiving money from the Saudis and the Americans, Karroubi retorted: “If I am a conspirator because I object [to the rigged presidential election], then you are a partner of those who stole this nation’s vote and are disloyal to the nation.”

“Challenges to the regime now come even from prisoners,” Ledeen concluded. “When Mr. Ahmadinejad challenged Barack Obama to a debate this month, a Green Movement website reported with grim admiration that five journalists in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison had invited Mr. Ahmadinejad to come to jail and debate them.

“Very little of this news reaches a mass Western audience, and one wonders to what extent Western governments understand what’s going on,” Ledeen added. “If they do, their failure to support the democratic revolutionaries is all the more lamentable.”
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.

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