Seeking Justice for the Slave Trade
ACCRA — Calling itself the African World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission, a group set up by the Organization of African Unity is demanding $777 trillion from Western Europe and the the Americas "in reparation for enslaving Africans while colonizing the continent." According to a declaration released in Ghana, the commission will use an international team of lawyers to collect the money.
Africa’s external debts would be wiped out as part of the package. The Accra Declaration argues that Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean grew rich off the slave trade, while Africa shriveled economically. Development was further hampered by colonization — another form of slavery.
According to attorney Anthony Gifford, a member of the British House of Lords, pursuing reparations may not be impractical. Germany and Japan paid Jews and Koreans for genocide and cruelty during World War II. Since the slave trade was the "most wicked criminal enterprise in recorded human history," it could be handled like the Nuremberg trials of Nazis or recent cases of human rights abuse.
The first steps are to agree that a crime was committed, and agree on the merits of the case. An international trial will give Africans around the world a chance to make the case that the White world owes much of its wealth to slave labor, and that the economic power of rich nations has been built largely on cheap raw materials exported from Africa.
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Your Taxes at Work
LONDON — Underlining US hypocrisy concerning the carnage in East Timor, Pentagon documents reveal that Indonesian military forces linked to the recent violence there were trained in the US under a secret program supported by the Clinton administration. According to a report in The Observer, the US spent almost $2 million training more than 50 members of the Indonesian military. Training continued until 1998.
Code-named Iron Balance, the program was hidden when Congress banned the schooling of Indonesia’s army after a massacre in 1991. The most rigorously trained unit was known as the Kopassus, an elite force with a bloody history. Pentagon documents obtained by the US-based East Timor Action Network and Illinois congressman Lane Evans detail exercises conducted covertly under a Pentagon project called JCET (Joint Combined Education and Training).
The training provided military expertise that could only be used against civilians, such as urban guerrilla warfare, surveillance, counter-intelligence, sniper marksmanship, and "psychological operations."
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The Stage is Set for Colombia Intervention
CARACAS — If President Andres Pastrana fails to conclude peace negotiations with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels within the next few months, a multinational force — backed by US air power — is primed to intervene early next year. According to Peru’s Frecuencia Latina Canal 2-TV, the CIA-inspired plan surfaced in September after a visit to Peru by Gen. Barry McCaffrey, US National Drug Policy Director.
Accompanied by two CIA agents, McCaffrey reportedly discussed the plan during a late August meeting with the head of Peru’s National Intelligence Service. If Pastrana’s peace efforts fail, the TV station reported, he will declare a state of civil war, paving the way for the arrival of ground troops from Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador.
Predictably, McCaffrey has denied discussing intervention, admitting only to talks about the regional "war on drugs." After his Latin American tour, however, he called for $1 billion in military aid to Colombia.
Meanwhile, the US announced that a new Colombian "Anti-Drug Battalion" is being trained by the Green Berets. The US gave Colombia $289 million in anti-drug aid this year, but the line between battling rebels and drug producers has been seriously blurred.
FARC claims that attempts to tar them as drug traffickers and link the group to cross-border attacks are part of the effort to "internationalize" the conflict. A case in point: The rebels deny responsibility for the September kidnapping of a group, including seven Canadians and one US oil worker, inside Ecuador. The incident, says a FARC statement, is part of a plan "to establish a credible and sellable scenario to facilitate foreign intervention."
According to the New York Times, the conflict in Colombia is "increasingly becoming a regional problem." However, the Times does add that threats against Panama and Venezuela have come from a right-wing paramilitary leader, who claims both governments support the FARC rebels.
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Cubans Go to Court
HAVANA — Several Cuban organizations are suing the US for nearly 40 years of "hostile acts." Filing a $181 billion lawsuit in a Havana court, the claimants demand that Washington pay damages for the deaths of 3478 Cuban citizens and the disabilities of 2099 others, calling them "victims of the aggressive US policy."
The list of victims includes people killed in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, organized by the US and Cubans opposed to Fidel Castro, and deaths caused by dengue fever, which Cuba alleges was introduced to the country by the US. The organizations involved include Cuba’s main trade union, the National Association of Small Farmers, Federation of Cuban Women, and Federation of University Students.
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Moscow Poised for Chechnya Invasion
MOSCOW — As of early October, Russia was preparing for an invasion of Chechnya. But the financial and human cost will be high, and in order to succeed, the plan must be implemented by December.
Most Russians support retaliation against Chechen terrorist attacks, such as the bombing of apartment buildings. To stir the pot, Russian TV has aired videotape of rebels mutilating Russian POWs during the first Chechen war.
Thousands of sorties have been flown in recent weeks, with the government loosely defining "military targets" as homes, bridges, hospitals, TV stations, broadcast towers, and radar. The goal is to clear out civilians and impose an information blockade. But harsh winter weather and the tight schedule for a ground invasion may hamper complete success.
Despite technical advantages, Russian forces haven’t learned as much as the rebels since their last encounter five years ago. The rebels are quick to adopt new tactics and better at mobile warfare. Although Russia can eventually win, its political motives are stronger than its military ability. As a result, the war is likely to continue — off camera – well into next year.
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Dam on the Nile
BUJAGALI FALLS — The world’s largest private power producer wants to build a $500 million, 250-megawatt dam just north of the source of the Nile. Located just down river from the Bujagali Falls, the US-based AES Corp.’s dam would be the showpiece of Uganda’s privatization program and the first privately built hydro project in sub-Saharan Africa.
Yet, despite enthusiastic support from President Yoweri Musaveni, the country’s parliament has so far declined to give the green light. The project is linked to legislation that would privatize Uganda’s national power supplier, the first such attempt in East Africa. This summer, the US ambassador made a thinly veiled threat that relations could be harmed by failure to approve the dam.
The government promised to privatize power five years ago, at the urging of Western donors and the World Bank. A recent World Bank survey of businesses cites the high cost of energy as the main constraint to investment. Most companies use generators to ensure a constant supply. But many neighborhoods must endure "load-shedding" — no power for hours at a time.
Bujagali is only one of three major hydro projects in the works. Construction is underway on an expansion of the Owens Falls dam, which generates almost all Uganda’s electricity. Another private dam is proposed on the Nile at Karuma Falls in the north. Only a handful of privately-build dams currently exist. Companies pay for construction, and make money by selling power to national suppliers for a fixed period. Then the dam is handed over to the government.
At the moment, the Uganda dam and privatization have considerable momentum. Unlike many mega-dam projects, Bujagali has yet to draw environmental controversy. In fact, during a public hearing, locals booed those who spoke against it.
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Jail Doesn’t Stop Malay Opposition
PENANG — In jail for over a year, ousted Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Abrahim says he’s the victim of a high-level conspiracy and claims that his political opponents even tried to poison him with arsenic. For Prime Minister Mahathir Mahamad, the charges come at a very bad time. Facing parliamentary elections by mid-2000, his administration is already accused of rampant corruption, cronyism, and wasting scarce resources on huge development projects.
A leader of Malaysia’s main opposition party, Anwar was sacked, arrested, and convicted for allegedly attempting to influence an investigation into his sexual misconduct. In September 1998, appearing in court with a black eye, he claimed he’d been beaten senseless. Since being jailed, he’s been charged with sodomy, which carries a long jail term.
Nevertheless, the August release of Lim Guan Eng, another Democratic Action Party (DAP) leader, has given new life to the opposition. Lim, a Chinese Malaysian, was jailed for sedition and his defense of an under-age ethnic Malay girl who accused a senior politician of sexual misconduct. Although Malays and ethnic Chinese are usually political opponents, about 5000 Malaysians gathered at the prison gates to cheer Lim’s release.
Mahathir’s political opposition now includes the Chinese-based DAP, the Islamic Party, the tiny Malaysian People’s Party, and the new National Justice Party, headed by Anwar’s wife. United behind a reform program, they support the country’s constitution, but want to remove oppressive laws. That would mean retaining a secular state with Islam as the official religion.
Although Malaysia has begun to recover from its economic crisis, 17 percent of Kuala Lumpur’s residents are squatters, and 10 percent of the nation’s people live in absolute poverty. With power centralized in the executive branch, the credibility of government has been seriously eroded. But reform won’t come easily, since the ruling coalition, in power for 18 years, uses its power to control the media and elections. Whether growing public outrage will be enough to change that remains to be seen.
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Tobacco Battle Enters the Kitchen
BOSTON — A new consumer boycott launched by INFACT focuses on Kraft Foods, owned by the world’s largest tobacco company, Philip Morris. "Boycotts affect not just the immediate bottom line, but also a corporation’s image," explains INFACT Director Kathryn Mulvey. "Kraft is a critical source of the tobacco giant’s credibility."
Tactics include "Boycott Kraft" bumper stickers, demonstrations, and a media blitz. The focus on Kraft Macaroni & Cheese — a favorite among children — is designed to spur family discussions about the dangers of tobacco use. Philip Morris is testing a new mentholated version of Marlboros in hopes of luring young Black smokers away from their current favorite, Newport.
African American groups, who want an international code of marketing, point to a rise in tobacco-related deaths in Africa and Asia. The Kraft boycott stresses the reach of the tobacco industry. "If you open up your kitchen cabinet," notes Bill Robinson, founder of South Carolina’s African American Tobacco Coalition, "you’ll see that many items have some connection to tobacco companies.
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Saving the Plateau
LHASA — Until recently, the high alpine grasslands of Tibet’s Yushu Autonomous Prefecture were a haven for a rich biological heritage that included the Tibetan antelope, wild yak, blue sheep, wolves, and black-necked cranes. But in the last 30 years, increased hunting in what China calls Qinghai Province has led to noticeable declines, and overgrazing has reduced the productivity of traditional animal husbandry.
Recognizing the need for conservation and sustainable development, locals have established China’s first Tibetan "people’s organization," the Upper Yangtze Organization (UYO). Working with the Tibetan Plateau Project (TPP), Chinese groups, and US researchers, the UYO is currently developing an integrated plan for the grasslands of the upper Yangtze River, reports Earth Island Journal. TPP will work with the region’s villages to make sure land can be used both for long-term animal husbandry, protection of biodiversity, and maintenance of Tibetan cultural values.
The initial goal is to survey wildlife populations, in hopes of establishing protected areas for four endangered species — the Tibetan antelope, snow leopard, black-necked crane, and wild donkey. The UYP will also train residents in biodiversity management, devise range land management techniques, and evaluate projects stressing appropriate development. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Island Workers Make Apparel Giants Sweat
SAIPAN — In the Northern Mariana Islands, where imported Asian workers produce US designer clothes at starvation wages, a class action lawsuit has forced four apparel makers to the bargaining table. In a settlement, Nordstrom, Cutter & Buck, J. Crew, and Gymboree have agreed to set up a $1.25 million fund that will finance independent monitoring of Marianas contractors. The goal is to insure compliance with US labor laws and international human rights treaties.
The settlement also establishes strict employment standards, including overtime payment, and promises safe food and water and basic civil rights for employees. Recruitment fees — a modern version of indentured servitude — will be banned. However, The Gap, which does the most business on the islands, has thus far declined to settle.
The US administered the Marianas from 1947 to 1986 under a UN trusteeship. In 1976, the islands, located between Guam and the Tropic of Cancer in the South Pacific, became a commonwealth in political union with the US, subsequently adopting its own constitution. Most of the indigenous population has US citizenship.
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Chiquita Plays Hurricane Card
TEGUCIGALPA — Among the businesses that used Hurricane Mitch to advance their own agendas, perhaps the most blatant was Tela Railroad, a sudsidiary of Chiquita Brands International. For example, it demanded a total exemption from the tax on banana exports for five years before promising to rehabilitate its plantations, and threatened to close its Honduran operations unless it was exempted from several labor regulations and agrarian reform laws.
Chiquita also took advantage of Mitch by reducing the effectiveness of the Tela’s union. For many workers, who stood to lose health benefits and pensions, it was safer to sign a new agreement that allowed the company to speed up modernization. Most workers lost their full-time jobs anyway, and had to accept weekly survival benefits or temporary work for sub-contractors. "By using temporary workers, Tela gets out of having to pay for health, education, and pension benefits," explained union leaders Vitali Garcia.
Although Tela did offer to build new homes for some workers, these were located in a sprawling city farther away, rather than in the banana fields themselves. That will undercut the ability to strike in the future. When the workers lived in the fields, they could shut down production and survive by eating bananas.
In July, Tela announced that it would plant African palm rather than bananas on three plantations. The switch will result in the loss of at least 300 jobs.
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Iraq Sees Hope in Papal Visit
BAGHDAD — Although the US shows no sign of relaxing its pressure on Iraq, a planned December visit by Pope John Paul II may help to reduce the nation’s isolation and draw renewed attention to the impacts of sanctions. On his way to Ur — the birthplace of Abraham — the pope will meet with Saddam Hussein. One diplomat has suggested that the encounter could become "a sort of absolution" for the Iraqi dictator.
Another sign of Iraq’s regional rehabilitation came in September, when its foreign minister chaired an Arab League meeting in Cairo. It was the first time since the invasion of Kuwait that Iraq was allowed to preside over such a gathering. In 1997, Iraq wasn’t even invited.
The UN Security Council remains firmly divided on Iraq, with the US and UK on one side, Russia and China on the other, and France hovering between. Russia wants to suspend sanctions without seeing the results of more inspections. The US insists on "full compliance." Meanwhile, UNICEF reports that the mortality rate among Iraqi children has risen from 56 to 131 per 1000 in the past five years.
Economic collapse has escalated malnutrition and disease, and deprived the country of basic medicines. Much to the discomfort of the US, such realities are likely to figure in the pope’s speeches during his pilgrimage to holy sites on the eve of the next millennium.