Category Archives: Africa

The Expense of the American Dream

Political analysis, alas, is no less immune to what has been called the “fashion system” than any other segment of human consumption habits since the end of the Great War bequeathed the industrial form of indoctrination that prevails—now in digital form—today. The polemics offered as contemporary insights can be found in older documents, the sources we call history. Like fashion and pageantry, the writing for daily consumption is always presented as “new” and/or “improved”. Sometimes it is presented as “classical” with the veneer of ancient authority. Yet the misery to which the vast majority of humanity is subjected has been altered only minimally since 1492 gave the Roman Catholic and later Protestant elites in Europe the impetus to seize the rest of the planet, dominating the world’s population and the rest of nature.

Despite this power the Eurocentric cultures have never transcended their propensity or vulnerability to the millenarianism that is pejoratively attributed to the medieval period, the previous era of Roman Catholic domination over the peoples of Christendom. Perhaps this is a condition of the unique solar-based calendar system that prevails in the Dark Peninsula of Europe. Ironically, it is the darkest part of the planet Earth (at least in terms of days of sunlight) that has acquired the habit of calling the rest of the world—where, in fact, there is more sunlight—“dark”; e.g., Africa. It is also this relatively small region of the world whose population claims to have ennobled humanity with the supposed escape from its pathological violence with the Enlightenment.

The countries in which this Enlightenment was to have occurred—as an end to its shameful “darkness”—have nevertheless been the source of the greatest violence and destruction ever caused by humans. In the course of a mere 500 years, the peoples from the European peninsula managed to systematically decimate three continents and develop weapons and business practices capable of killing the rest. At the same time, this homicidal culture is managed and perpetuated by people who now believe the world is doomed because of climate change. Hence they have begun preaching that all those who happened to survive the vicious onslaught of half a millennium are at fault now for the immanent destruction of life on Earth—as they have come to know it.

The “dark” world—meaning, in fact, the non-white part—is alleged to be the cause of this impending apocalypse through overpopulation, overconsumption, overdevelopment, or mere striving for equality of life with those Enlightened who have plundered the planet.

Gerald Horne asks us to reconsider this perverse reversal of the facts. He is not talking about the impending apocalypse, but about the one that already occurred and thus the processes that apocalypse already set in motion. Although his 2018 book is clearly a response to the 2016 US Presidential elections, Professor Horne is simply asking a question that should be obvious. Why does the world have to suffer at regular intervals the messianic anointment of rich white people whose mission is to impose their will on whole nations and continents? Why have two revolutions in the dark centres of power been unable to stop the homicidal juggernaut of European culture, controlled by a tiny elite in the North Atlantic basin? Professor Horne focuses on the events in England, North America, and the Caribbean in the Seventeenth Century. In his view, the so-called Glorious Revolution in England constituted a crucial turning point launching the ascendancy of the English-speaking peoples; making them the premier “white” race upon whose domination the sun should never set and the blood should never dry.

Establishment history defines the Seventeenth Century as the beginning of progress. In North America that “progress” led to the founding of the new Eden later to be constituted as the United States. On the older side of the Atlantic basin, the great hope was to be the United Kingdom. By the end of the Great Slaughter of 1914-1918, these two pretenders to civilisation joined for all intents and purposes to embody the new Jerusalem, even recreating the Crusader fortress to restore imperial control over the inhabitants of the old Jerusalem by mid-century. The United Kingdom fought nearly forty years to defeat the French Revolution in Europe, while the United States helped to defeat it in the western hemisphere. It took some seventy years for their combined forces in the “special relationship” to defeat the Russian Revolution.

The question that must be asked is, if there was, in fact, Enlightenment in the dark peninsula of Europe, among the most backward societies on the planet, why did the inhabitants of those societies find themselves compelled by the supposedly most enlightened among them to destroy any and every attempt to follow the principles of that Enlightenment—liberty, fraternity, equality—in the most ferocious manner, developing for that purpose the capacity to annihilate millions and poison the environment for man and beast alike?

Of course, this question has been asked, especially by European scholars writing in the wake of the Second World War.1 Much has been said about the internal contradictions between equality and social order or the defects of secularised Christianity. There has been a good deal of criticism directed at the imperatives of modern science and the ideology of progress. In the end there seems to be a consensus that it is man’s weakness (dare we say “sin”) in the face of forces he has unleashed—the indeterminacy of even the best planned actions—which has led us all to the realisation that the Enlightenment was not that bright after all, that liberty, fraternity and equality are quaint illusions, the pursuit of which has most recently burdened us with “climate change” due to “global warming”.

Professor Horne’s reply to this question, I suppose—were he to breach academic decorum—would not be “man’s weakness” or that the trinity of Enlightenment virtue was illusory. Rather he would—and, in fact, does—argue that the Enlightenment was not the cause of European improvement (which did not occur) but a polemic that emerged mainly in the countries that became the greatest colonisers and traders in non-white human flesh. In other words, Enlightenment discourse was a product of the ideology of white supremacy, which preceded it in development. The Enlightenment emerged as a style for rationalising the creation of “white” identity or “European” identity. That meant suppressing the urges to murder and steal from each other based on differences of language, religion, family or ethnicity or general brigandry. Why after the slaughter of the Thirty Years War was that necessary? The European population itself had been seriously depleted. And the hope of further enrichment from abroad required every available hand for its achievement.

Andre Gunder Frank gave a plausible economic explanation for how the backwater of the Eurasian continent began to undermine the largest and most developed economy of the time after 1492.2 He argued that the Spanish conquest of South America introduced masses of new precious metals, primarily silver, which opened the Chinese economy to Europeans for the first time on a large scale. China’s silver-based economy was increasingly destabilised by the inflow of new money into the Asia-Pacific region China had traditionally dominated. Of course, Spanish gold and silver also destabilised the economies of Europe, leading to competition and more wars. However, this would not have been possible without the annihilation of the indigenous population in the Americas, whose land and labour had to be stolen for this purpose. Spanish loot became the target of England’s pirate fleets, ultimately exhausting His Most Catholic Majesty’s treasury. The defeat of the Spanish Armada was to leave Britain to become the ruler of the waves.

When the supply of precious metals became insufficient to award unearned wealth, Europeans shifted to drugs. The principal drugs of that era were sugar and tobacco. Unlike mining, which ends when the lode has been exhausted and the metal has found its way into foreign treasuries, drugs are a renewable source of wealth. However, prior to the emergence of the chemical industry, most drug production was labour-intensive and plantation-based. The only way to keep the industry profitable was low input costs and monopoly control of supply and price. With little labour in Europe to spare, what remained of the indigenous populations was enslaved along with a new source found in Africa. For Europeans, Africans were a population surplus that could be used to drive the sugar plantations of the Americas. Sugar was foremost a product of Caribbean islands and hence every striving European ruler sought islands for his own domestic drug market. At the same time competition for slave labour intensified to permit the maximum volumes for the least possible cost. The competition was finally reduced France (with Saint Dominique), Spain (with Jamaica and Cuba) and Britain (with Barbados and the neighbouring islands). France’s colony was by far the richest and most profitable until it was lost by the Haitian Revolution. Britain finally drove Spain out of Jamaica and with its superior naval forces emerged as the leading drug producer of the Caribbean and ultimately Europe’s leading drug pusher.

The island economies had two serious disadvantages in the Seventeenth Century. At some point, especially the smaller islands like Barbados, would be fully exploited. New territory was needed for new profits. Far more serious, however, was the population problem. European colonisers had been unsuccessful at inducing or forcing enough of their subjects to leave their homes and work as serfs in the Caribbean. The importation of African slave labour soon led to overwhelming African majorities on the sugar islands. These majorities were not passively resigned to their lot. On the contrary it became increasingly dangerous for Europeans to live among these large slave populations without the use of extreme violence and military force. The cost of maintaining military domination of the slave populations and fighting drug wars against rivals was decreasing the profitability of these colonies steadily. Thus in by 1688 and the Glorious Revolution new means had to be sought to maintain the profitability of both African slavery and the drug economy it was used to support.

Professor Horne shows that the new monarchical dispensation created by the election of William and Mary to the British throne opened the market for the trade in Africans by abolishing the previous royal monopoly on the slave trade. Moreover the reconciliation of mercantile interests with those of the landed aristocracy created an ideological consensus, which would reduce the historical tensions within Christendom. The ideology of free trade, expressed in Adam Smith’s canonical text, was an outgrowth of the reorganisation of the European drug trade and slavery as its principal labour policy.3 While the State, in Britain’s case the Royal Navy, would continue to protect the essential trading infrastructure and fend off competition, the rest of the business would be opened to private enterprise. As in the economy today, the expenses were socialised and the profits privatised.

A solution had to be found to the labour crisis in the Caribbean. The problem was complex. On one hand the island drug economies relied on African slave labour. However, since the Africans soon outnumbered the Europeans, increasing degrees of violence were needed to subjugate this workforce. The competition between rival national gangs, especially between Britain and Spain, meant that enslaved labour (including the residue of indigenous people among the slave population) was not only tempted but were often successful at alleviating their condition by changing sides in the various drug wars that plagued the islands. In Jamaica, the entrenched free African enclaves, fought alternatively with the Spanish against the English or the English against the Spanish in order to obtain relative advantages.

On the other hand indentured European labourers were just as likely to join Africans to rebel against their oppressors, especially Irish Catholic labourers against their English Protestant lords. The necessity of reducing the cost of violent control over Africans led the owners of the plantations to look for another strategy.

As Theodore Allen also argued in an earlier study, the solution was found in a new legal regime.4 African labourers were to be subjected to very strict and harsh controls from which Europeans were exempted. Europeans were to be punished for cooperation with Africans. Europeans were to be released from their bondage after a term of years while Africans would not only be bonded for life but also as a class. White’s study focussed on the British colonisation of Ireland and the creation of the race regime in North America. Gerald Horne shows that this process began even earlier in the Caribbean. Moreover in Horne’s work the process is fundamental for the inception of the United States. It was, in his view, the threat by the United Kingdom to revise its labour regime by abolishing bonded labour that led the English colonists on the mainland (many of whom had moved their wealth from the Caribbean to North America) that led to the war creating the United States.

Professor Horne’s argument, published in several books over the past decade, explains the roots of Anglo-American empire and the so-called free market/ free enterprise or capitalist system in a manner consistent with Marx but with more reliance upon the insights of Walter Rodney5 and Eric Williams.6 While Karl Marx may have provided the most useful theoretical description of the system called capitalism, it is apparent that the program derived from Marxism by various European and North American political parties has been insufficient to remedy the fundamental crimes of African slavery. He says this failure is not an oversight but due to a fundamental error. By treating industrialisation and modernisation as the results of the Enlightenment and the product of European humanism, a reversal is made.

Slavery made industrial capitalism possible. It was the obscene profitability of the Caribbean drug trade, later expanded to other primary commodities, based on African slavery that gave Britain and, to a lesser extent, the Netherlands the enormous capital resources to develop its industry. Moreover it was the culture, the ideology of white supremacy that the Enlightenment first theorised. For that reason there should be no surprise that the leading Enlightenment leaders of the day; e.g., Thomas Jefferson in the United States, should have felt no compulsion to include Africans among the beneficiaries. Quite the contrary, the Haitian Revolution forced the “enlightened” French in Bordeaux to accept that liberté, egalité et fraternité was not meant just for Europeans—but for all the French.7 Admittedly this class has never fully accepted the Haitian argument. But according to Professor Horne that should be no surprise since the slogans were intended by the emergent bourgeoisie to unite Europeans against Africans, not with them.

Without abandoning the Marxian analysis of capitalism, despite its historical limitations, the questions have to be asked. Why does the United States claim to “exceptionalism” retain its high level of acceptance even among the anti-establishment? Why is slavery, despite the historical and economic data, still treated as incidental to the foundation of the exceptional US? Professor Horne poignantly recalls that three hundred years of slavery and genocide are ignored when the origin of the United States is described, but the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union are reduced to the ten years of Joseph Stalin’s wartime rule. African slavery is treated as mere collateral damage in the pageant of Manifest Destiny.

Much of the historical data has been compressed but can be found elsewhere in Gerald Horne’s earlier works. The core is argued in depth in The Counter-Revolution of 1776. In The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism he summarises his previous work as an explicit criticism of the political inflammation exposed by the 2016 election of Donald Trump to the slave-built mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He says that the present US government is extreme in its expression but of a deeply held faith shared across the US political spectrum.

Donald Trump has been the target of attack on both sides of the Atlantic basin. It is hardly possible to find anyone who can say anything about United States policy without blaming the real estate mogul from New York. The revulsion is obvious in this short essay. However, a careful reading will reveal that the present POTUS is merely a more obvious and inane expression of the consensus forged by the ideology of white supremacy, the driving force of cross-class capitalism. That ideology was necessary for Europeans to suppress their other homicidal differences; e.g., religion, language, nationality and greed.

Professor Horne shows that the Dark Continent was Europe, not Africa. The Enlightenment was made possible by a bonfire of African slaves. And as James Baldwin once told the Cambridge Union, the American Dream was at the expense of the American Negro—who built the country: picked the cotton, dug the canals, laid the railroads, for nothing, for nothing.8

Today the world is still dominated by states and corporations warring for control of the drug traffic and other primary commodities. Africa is still being plundered and apparently its inhabitants can be enslaved, displaced, starved or killed at will. There is virtual silence among those Enlightened.

The first rule of any successful crime is to make the victim feel he or she deserved it. The darkness that has hung over the non-white world for the past half a millennia could only be maintained by the fiction that the light is “white”.

  1. Probably the most well known of these is The Dialectic of the Enlightenment by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1944).
  2. Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age, 1998.
  3. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776.
  4. Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, 1994.
  5. Walter Rodney, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545 to 1800, 1970 and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 1982.
  6. Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, 1944.
  7. C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins, 1938.
  8. James Baldwin v. William F. Buckley, debate before the Cambridge Union, 26 October 1965.

Canada and 70th Anniversary of NATO

The first installment in this series discussed how NATO was set up partly to blunt the European Left. The other major factor driving the creation of NATO was a desire to bolster colonial authority and bring the world under a US geopolitical umbrella.

From the outset Canadian officials had an incredibly expansive definition of NATO’s supposed defensive character, which says an “attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all allies.” As part of the Parliamentary debate over NATO external minister Lester Pearson said: “There is no better way of ensuring the security of the Pacific Ocean at this particular moment than by working out, between the great democratic powers, a security arrangement the effects of which will be felt all over the world, including the Pacific area.” Two years later he said: “The defence of the Middle East is vital to the successful defence of Europe and north Atlantic area.” In 1953 Pearson went even further: “There is now only a relatively small [5000 kilometre] geographical gap between southeast Asia and the area covered by the North Atlantic treaty, which goes to the eastern boundaries of Turkey.”

In one sense the popular portrayal of NATO as a defensive arrangement was apt. After Europe’s second Great War the colonial powers were economically weak while anti-colonial movements could increasingly garner outside support. The Soviets and Mao’s China, for instance, aided the Vietnamese. Similarly, Egypt supported Algerian nationalists and Angola benefited from highly altruistic Cuban backing. The international balance of forces had swung away from the colonial powers.

To maintain their colonies European powers increasingly depended on North American diplomatic and financial assistance. NATO passed numerous resolutions supporting European colonial authority. In the fall of 1951 Pearson responded to moves in Iran and Egypt to weaken British influence by telling Parliament: “The Middle East is strategically far too important to the defence of the North Atlantic area to allow it to become a power vacuum or to pass into unfriendly hands.” The next year Ottawa recognized the colonies of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos as “associated states” of France, according to an internal report, “to assist a NATO colleague, sorely tried by foreign and domestic problems.” More significantly, Canada gave France hundreds of millions of dollars in military equipment through NATO’s Mutual Assistance Program. These weapons were mostly used to suppress the Vietnamese and Algerian independence movements.

In 1953 Pearson told the House: “The assistance we have given to France as a member of the NATO association may have helped her recently in the discharge of some of her obligations in Indo-China.” Similarly, Canadian and US aid was used by the Dutch to maintain their dominance over Indonesia and West Papua New Guinea, by the Belgians in the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, by the Portuguese in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau and by the British in numerous places. Between 1950 and 1958 Ottawa donated a whopping $1,526,956,000 ($8 billion today) in ammunition, fighter jets, military training, etc. to European countries through the NATO Mutual Assistance Program.

The role NATO played in North American/European subjugation of the Global South made Asians and Africans wary of the organization. The Nigerian Labour Party’s 1964 pamphlet The NATO Conspiracy in Africa documents that organization’s military involvement on the continent from bases to naval agreements. In 1956 NATO established a Committee for Africa and in June 1959 NATO’s North Atlantic Council, the organization’s main political decision-making body, warned that the communists would take advantage of African independence to the detriment of Western political and economic interests.

The north Atlantic alliance was designed to maintain unity among the historic colonial powers — and the US — in the midst of a de-colonizing world. It was also meant to strengthen US influence around the world. In a history of the 1950-53 US-led Korean war David Bercuson writes that Canada’s external minister “agreed with [President] Truman, [Secretary of State] Dean Acheson, and other American leaders that the Korean conflict was NATO’s first true test, even if it was taking place half a world away.”

Designed to maintain internal unity among the leading capitalist powers, NATO was the military alliance of the post-WWII US-centered multilateral order, which included the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, International Trade Organization (ITO) and the United Nations. (For its first two decades the UN was little more than an arm of the State Department.)

A growing capitalist power, Canada was well placed to benefit from US-centered multilateral imperialism. The Canadian elite’s business, cultural, familial and racial ties with their US counterparts meant their position and profits were likely to expand alongside Washington’s global position.

NATO bolstered colonial authority and helped bring the world under the US geopolitical umbrella, from which the Canadian elite hoped to benefit.

The Divine Right of Dark-hearted Despots (Then and Now)

This essay was in part, inspired by—and written in memory of—William Blum (1932-2018). Blum was a comrade-in-arms, and himself one of the great keyboard warriors of his time. We all had much to learn from this man about courage, integrity, tenacity, and resilience in the service of truth. His trenchant opposition to the ruthless and relentless exploitation of other countries and their people by his own country, the United States of America—at what was clearly at considerable personal cost—is possibly best exemplified by his book America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, the Truth About US Foreign Policy, and Everything Else.

Brief: Advocacy of regime change—the wrecking ball in the foreign policy tool shed—continues to permeate the political and media discourse in Washington, with Venezuela holding pole position on the D.C.-based Democracy Busters ‘dance-card’. It seems, though, that with every successive effort by the U.S. and its proxies to destabilize countries and dethrone their elected leaders, they pay less attention to disguising their real motives and covering their tracks, and more attention to ignoring their failures and downplaying their disasters. That this reality should awaken more folks to the hollowness and hubris of America’s much-touted repute as a “beacon of freedom” is a given for those of us with a more clear-eyed view of how much chaos, destruction, and geopolitical instability this policy prescription engenders. I invite one and all to re-arrange the furniture in their geopolitical ‘living room’, and consider the following: nothing is going to change in the execution of U.S foreign policy, until pretty much everything else does.

The Low-life Lion King of the Congo

His Imperious Majesty Leopold II of Belgium: One of History’s Greatest Unsung Mass Murderers and role model for Dictators and Despots to come.

A bit like Neil Young does from time to time, I’ve recently been delving into the archives. And as it turns out, I have a lot of unpublished material. Some of this I’m pleased to report is as relevant, if not even more so, today. Now one of the trending issues is regime change, America’s default, bi-partisan foreign policy gambit that’s been in play since at least 1945. Not unsurprisingly, it is a recurring theme in my archival musings on empire. Which is to say: the shadow and portent of “regime change” is rarely far removed from the foreign policy public discourse in Washington, at least for those with an ear for these things. What with the events taking place in Venezuela then*, along with plans afoot by the Regime Renovators du jour Elliot Abrams, Mike Pompeo, and John Bolton and their ilk to take down Iran’s government, it seemed an opportune time to strap on the parachute and jump down the memory hole in order to get a handle on what all the fuss is about. (*See the blog Washington Babylon for Ken Silverstein’s current front-line reportage on Venezuela. From what I’ve seen, it’s hard to beat.)

For the record, the core of this ‘dissertation’ was penned back around 2014, now with some key updates and editorial revisions. It was intended then—as now—to provide another perspective on Uncle Sam’s incurable addiction to meddling in the affairs of other nations, and the blowback from doing so. I should add the following: Another factor prompting this was my recent discovery of a powerful Netflix drama series called Black Earth Rising. The backdrop to this narrative is the events which took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (aka Zaire), a modern-day catastrophe which had its genesis back as far as the early fifties, but whose dark history of colonial and imperial exploitation goes back several centuries.

Before proceeding, though, it is important to retain at the ready America’s own more recent role in keeping the home fires burning in same, wherever they require ‘lighting’ and ‘fuelling’. Such as in Venezuela now, Libya in 2011, Syria in 2012, and in 2014 in Ukraine, to name just a few infamous, more contemporary examples. The stories of US involvement in the political affairs of foreign countries are as legion as they are, of course, familiar. At least they are for those of us with few illusions about America’s status as “a force for good in the world”, and places such as Cuba, Guatemala, and Iran are prime examples. Yet throughout the years the Cuban revolution was taking place on America’s doorstep, there were plenty of others brewing on every continent on the Big Blue/Green Ball. One of the most significant of these was on Joseph Conrad’s turf—the geographical heart of deepest, darkest Africa, specifically the Belgian Congo (later the DRC/Zaire).

In 1960 a BC independence movement started gaining momentum, and between then and 1965 the CIA was intimately involved in an ongoing effort to influence the outcome of events in order to advance freedom, democracy, and self-determination in this ‘tin-pot’, ‘third-world ‘backwater’, regardless of whether they wanted it or not. As we’ll see to some degree at least, said “outcome” was very ugly indeed. Like Guatemala, Cuba and Iran et al, the blowback had a very long shelf-life and a very deep impact. The BC was a colonial outpost of Belgium from the latter part of the 19th century, initially under the barbarous, infamously despotic, truly genocidal King Leopold II, who pillaged, raped, purged, looted, pilfered, rampaged, plundered and burned his way through the African country throughout his reign until 1908. A particularly nasty, vile piece of work was His Royal Highness, ‘Low-life’ Leo’. If Belgium dragged the chain in succumbing to its own imperial and colonialist ambitions, like so many of her European cohorts had already done, it is in the Congo where she tried to make up the ground. For Leopold’s part, it is generally accepted he presided over the deaths of upwards of 10 million Congolese people. Arguably he was one of the worst advertisements for colonialism, imperialism, monarchism, exploitation, and despotism (by any measure a big call).

If ever there was a more infamous manifestation of a monarch exercising the divine right of kings (DRK) in the last one hundred and fifty years, I cannot think of one off hand. For that matter, whilst the historical concept of the DRK itself might’ve been considered passe by Leopold’s era, he simply ignored it, or didn’t get the memo. In the mass murder ‘popularity stakes’, this dude was up there with the biggest and the best of them: Hitler; Stalin; The Great ‘Helmsman’ Mao et al though he makes the more recent genocidal maniac Cambodia’s Pol Pot look like an underachiever by way of comparison. But unlike the aforementioned, Leo does not enjoy household name status in the history books, or in popular culture.

Interestingly, the BC, a major exporter of uranium during the Second World War, supplied the ‘juice’ that the Americans used in the A-bombs dropped in Japan. This was not, of course, the last time a uranium-producing African nation would figure large in a world-changing foreign policy decision taken by the Americans. Yet significantly it also held vast amounts of still relatively untapped high-value mineral and resource wealth (e.g. gold, copper, cobalt). This attracted the attention of the US (natch!), especially at the height of the Cold War, when said war was possibly much more about laissez-faire economics, energy, and other high value and/or strategic resources than it was about political ideology.

During the 1950s, in the post-World War Two, post-colonial period, there was widespread nationalist fervour fomenting in the country. There were years of unrest, political bickering, and nit-picking between ethnic and tribal groups and other political forces, over who the main muchachos would be in any new independent government. Most importantly, though, it was over who would get the main spoils, and/or, of course, who would get to keep them and profit from them. This scenario is a familiar one to be sure, and one that would be repeated monotonously with varying degrees of tragedy in most emerging, independent African nations throughout subsequent years. To say little of other places on the imperial itinerary.

In 1960 the country eventually achieved its full independence from Belgium, and Patrice Lumumba became the popularly elected Prime Minister. For his part Lumumba complained about how his country and his people had been ruthlessly exploited over the year. Nothing new here in this sentiment: It was a constant refrain from most developing countries in the post-colonialist, nationalist era. Lumumba appeared to be leaning towards Moscow with the possibility that the country could be taken over by godless, liberty challenged communists, or fall into their Geopolitical Orbit. “Appeared” is the operative word here, as like it so often is/was; such fear mongering was an expedient gambit with ulterior motives, much like terrorism has been more recently.

History now tells us that with many former colonies, it was not so much ideology that drove the nationalist ambitions of the former colonies of empire; it was attaining true political independence, sovereignty, and authentic control over their internal affairs. In almost all cases their former colonial masters and their new ‘besties’, the Americans, had decidedly different ideas. This was especially the case with countries like the DRC, which, as noted, was sitting on mountains of much sought after resources and minerals. Either way, any nod towards Moscow would just not do, and this information understandably set a cat amongst the hawks in Langley and Washington.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was revealed later on some members of the then Eisenhower administration had ‘interests’ in the mineral and resource wealth of the country, a frequently recurring motif underpinning America’s unrelenting efforts to assert that “right to protect” and from there export that aforementioned “democracy” etc. so they could eventually extort and then import these resources to America and the West at bargain basement prices. It also scared the bejesus out of the local anti-communist, right-wing elements in the country including in the Army, especially the top military brass who were highly tuned to the geopolitical and economic imperatives in relation to guaranteeing their future, and who would clearly benefit from a takeover of government. Oh, and did I say they were pro-American?

This was, of course, music to the CIA’s ears. PLUs–not Peace, Love and Understanding here mind you–they doubtless were thinking “People Like Us!” And the CIA was only too eager to assist. If the purportedly communist elements took over, there was no doubt this would threaten the political fortunes and personal and financial interests of those making foreign policy in the US (shades of things to come) and presumably their fellow travelers in US and Congolese mining and resource sectors and other vested local and international interests. The go-to guys at the CIA got to work…as they invariably do. Lumumba was eventually ousted and later assassinated. And former Army chieftain Joseph-Désiré Mobutu (later reinventing himself as Mobutu Sese Soko) assumed control.

And speaking of being and “ousted” and “assassinated’—albeit in his case, in one fell swoop—it is important to note here that the president at the time of Lumumba’s killing was none other than John Fitzgerald Kennedy (aka JFK), who’d only just begun to get comfortable in his new digs on Pennsylvania Ave. As noted earlier, the assassination of Lumumba was a train already in motion when Kennedy arrived at the White House. For his part, JFK was famously anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist to his boot-straps, and ostensibly supported the DRC’s independence. We’ll explore this more later on.

Dark Days in the Dark Continent (Regime Renovators Redux)

Not unlike his former colonial masters in their own colonialist ambitions, Mobutu initially dragged the chain on demonstrating his despotic disposition. But when he did get going he was unstoppable and quickly made up for any lost ground. To grease the wheels of power and keep them spinning in his favor, he bribed many of his potential challengers and rivals thereby giving new meaning to the old Sun Tzu adage of ‘keep(ing) [your] friends close, and [your] enemies closer’. This was a dictum apparently finding favor with many other dictators of the era. Probably still does. It’s in the job description. Especially if one seeks security of tenure. And who better to provide that security than old Uncle Sam.

The former president of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko. Tried to show Low-Leo a clean pair of heels in mass murder.

For those political opponents who were less compliant or corruptible, Mobutu reportedly presided over their public executions in front of Coliseum-sized crowds, or in simple, crude, tried and true tyrant style had them and their families tortured and/or murdered then disposed of ‘on the QT’. And then he really dug in his heels. By the end of the decade, he was unchallenged master of the Congo universe, and yet slowly but inexorably turned his country into an economic, social, environmental, political, and human rights basket case, another black hole in the post-imperial African continental universe! This was a man who successive US presidents called “America’s beacon of hope” in the region or similar sentiments. Go figure!

Over time Mobutu’s regime morphed into a ‘klepto-bruto-kakocracy’ of the first order. He maintained a personal fleet of Mercedes limos, and went on frequent shopping trips to Paris, London, and Milan on the Concorde (he even had a special airfield built for the plane) with his large entourage of wives/concubines and scores of cloying hacks, flacks, lackeys and subservient minions sticking to his belligerent black-ass like baby-shit to a blanket. He had dozens of mansions and palaces, and amassed an estimated $5bn dollars stashed in his own personal Swiss bank accounts all of which one can only presume he was keeping for a rainy day in case the road ahead got a little too bumpy. That he went on to become one of Africa’s most enduring if not endearing despots, is a matter of public record, even if said “public” is largely oblivious to this grossly tragic and criminal exercise in regime redemption and how it all played out over three decades and three countries. And it was all achieved with the blessing of the consecutive powers that be in Washington, regardless of whether they were Democratic or Republican. Deja vu, all over again!

Although the ride did eventually get quite bumpy for Mobutu, any karma due him took its time in arriving. In the interim, he caused a lot of people a lot of grief over a very long period of time and an equally broad expanse of geography.

The post-colonial world was never going to be a pretty sight anywhere it could be found on the planet (even without the meddling of the major powers), and this is one country where that observation really hits home, in a continent full of similar basket cases and less than pretty sights. For over the three decades whilst Mobutu ruled the country (renamed Zaire in the meantime), the living conditions of most of his people deteriorated rapidly and dramatically, and they were the lucky ones that survived the seemingly eternal, deathly inferno he brought to life with merciless gusto. Though he never came close, Mobutu was prepped to show King Leo a clean pair of heels in the mass murder and brutality stakes. No-one really knows how many of his countrymen he butchered himself; but if one is wondering from where Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) and Idi Amin (Uganda) and their despotic Dark Continental ilk got their delusions of bloody grandeur back in their heyday, then Mobutu is your go-to man!

In the early 1990s, though, it all started to go decidedly pear-shaped for the by now similarly pear-shaped dictator, with even the Americans turning against him. It all began to go the same way for a lot of other people as well. Tribal connections in Africa are deep and very complex and are rarely respective of national borders or sovereign boundaries, most of which have been redrawn dramatically, arbitrarily, and frequently in the past 100-150 odd years. This has mainly been since the rent-seeking white man showed up to collect said rent. Since, for example, the 1972 genocides and even further back than that, there have always been ethnic tensions—‘diplo-speak’ for different tribes slaughtering each other en masse—within and across the three countries. That these were either exploited deliberately or incidentally fuelled by the interference of major western powers is a given, especially the U.S.

A full account of the events that took place in this region around this time is beyond the scope of this essay. For a deeper elucidation, and one which is almost at complete odds with the current official “genocide” narrative, go here and here.

Christopher C Black, a Toronto based international criminal lawyer, is one of the go-to sources herein, with the scars to prove it by his own account. The James Corbett podcast interview below is a must-listen in this respect. Black spent 14 years successfully defending former Rwandan Gendarmerie General Augustin Ndindiliyimana at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). In that time, Black uncovered copious evidence about what really happened in the so-called “100 Days” of 1994 and the four-year civil war that led up to it. Black shares that information in this podcast and deconstructs the lies that continue to be propagated about the Rwandan genocide.

That the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) originally chalked up the coup in Zaire/DRC as a victory then, and saw the rise of Mobutu as beneficial to the region was clear. A “victory” for what and “beneficial” to whom, though, are questions that many are still asking even to this day.

It’s uncertain, though, whether the current crop of Langley Gangsters is asking the same questions after all these years. Chances are that today’s CIA spooks would not be even able to pinpoint Zaire/DRC on a map, let alone have any collective recollection of the role their predecessors had in the recent history of the ravaged, impoverished, at once bled dry and blood-soaked country. Or in the region. Or on the whole continent. Or of any of the others mentioned in the The Great American Regime Redemption narrative. That’s why we’re here down in the memory hole!

Our Son of a Bitch (Not Theirs)

Ronald (The Gipper) Reagan – All Thumbs up for Dictators, Tyrants, and Despots (“Our Sons of Bitches”).

To underscore just how much the US courts and panders to their roster of client dictators past and present, it is perhaps at Ronald (The Gipper) Reagan’s tenure we might have a ‘gander’. Like most US presidents, Reagan turned a blind eye to the shenanigans of the despots on their diplomatic dance-card. One of the most infamous of these was Mobutu. This was the man that The Gipper–who three times hosted him at official White House gatherings, and ignored criticisms of his human rights record–called a “voice of good sense and goodwill”. Small wonder they called him–i.e. Reagan–the Great Communicator. If people believed this shit (and it seemed most did at the time), they’d believe anything. Either that or Ronnie had once again begun to show the effects of Alzheimer’s, and he really had swallowed the whole jar of jelly beans as it were in one fell swoop.

Now some less than kind souls have even suggested the Gipper rode into the White House with at least Alzheimer’s early onset. Or he’d simply forgotten the details of the briefing he received from the good folks on the Zaire/DRC desk down at Foggy Bottom. Or maybe Reagan actually was engaging in some FDR-type realpolitik, that being: ‘he may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch’. Hard to know for sure! More likely, though, in true neo-con tradition, he chose to ignore it, or didn’t consider the deprivation of human rights on a national scale or persecution, denial of human rights, murder, exploitation, mass incarceration, and of its citizens all that much of a big deal. In fact, The Gipper’s Ambassador to the UN, Jeanne Kirkpatrick (aka the ‘Fairy’ Godmother of Neo-cons and an Amazonian Cold Warrior of the first order), was once quoted as saying that: ‘…America could be justified in its defense of totalitarian regimes if it served the defense of liberty and the national interest’. This was a refrain we have come to hear many times since.

The concept of the “national interest” for the US has always been one that’s a moving feast at the best and worst of times, and the above statement would’ve had the Grandmaster Minter of political double-speak George Orwell spinning in his eternally designated bolthole. We don’t know if Kirkpatrick was referring to people like Mobutu and his ilk in particular when she framed this pearl of foreign policy wisdom, but he clearly would not have been completely out of the frame. It’s also just as uncertain how Mobutu might have served the “liberty” and/or the “national interest” of either the US or Zaire however it might have been defined, or for that matter the other countries in the regions that suffered blowback from his poisonous, sclerotic, genocidal and cataclysmic reign, most notably Rwanda and Burundi.

It’s also not known if Mobutu had the same understanding of “liberty” and “national interest” as those that he detained, assassinated, murdered, terrorized, raped, tortured, mutilated, plundered, imprisoned, pillaged and just plain neglected throughout his time in office.

The lucky ones–if they can in any logically considered sense be defined as such–are presumably the ones he did neglect. He might not have destroyed as many lives as King Leo, but he gave it his best shot. With his death in disgraced exile in Morocco of prostate cancer in 1997, Mobutu’s belligerent, brutal ‘blackass’ was no more, and the moment of his passing presumably came not a nanosecond too soon for those who did survive him, with what remained of their lives and their families and tribes and their communities. It’s still further unknown what these folk and their descendants think now about the leaders, institutions, and nations without whose support the long-since deceased, yet still reviled Mobutu relied upon to keep him in power would have had a considerably shorter shelf-life than he did if not for them interfering in their affairs.

America, this is your foreign policy dollar working for you, then and now.

Now if King Leopold in the Belgian Congo was the poster boy/template for the ugly, vicious, ruthless, colonialist/imperialist period of centuries-old European empire, then Mobutu in Zaire went on to assume the role of his future political doppelganger in the equally ugly, vicious, ruthless, post-colonial, post-imperial, nationalist, and independence periods, a period that the U.S. (you know, the world’s “beacon of freedom”?) called the shots on. The CIA adopted him, nurtured him, and egged him on all the way. After all, he believed in Freedom™, and Democracy™, and Liberty™, and all that other All-American (Bull)Shit™ too didn’t he? What’s not to like?

For his part—and we might say, his final part—The Gipper played the role of an Alzheimer’s victim who eventually ‘buys the ranch’ for real in 2004, riding off into the sunset for the very last time. No doubt like most presidents before and after him, he did so oblivious to, or unconcerned about, the blowback that unfolded as a result of his country’s policies under his own ‘regime’. Mobutu was, of course, only one in a veritable conga-line of client dictatorships whose unerring, unquestioning support by America of them and the respective ruling elites and their cadres of the many and various regimes helped unleash mayhem, destruction, exploitation, torture, murder, misery, deep-seated ethnic, religious and racial division, and genocide upon their people and societal disorder, political dysfunction and economic catastrophe upon their nations.

As for Reagan, true to form the Old Ham just wouldn’t get off the stage, being of the ripe old age of 93 when they eventually hauled his ass off to Boot Hill. Still a bit of a ‘B’ movie exit by many measures, certainly for many who might consider his presidency a bit, well, ‘B’ movie. Not all it’s cracked up to be then? But try telling that to the Raging, Rabid, Raving, Righteous ideologues of Neo Americon (sic) Century, and you will get ‘short-shrifted’ PDQ. You know who I’m talking about here folks: the aforementioned Pompeos, the Boltons, the Abrams and all the rest of their hacks, flacks, and lackeys, on either side of the Potomac and beyond.

He was their savior back in the day…for which we should all be forever grateful (not). The most depressing thing, though, is that the current cabal almost makes The Gipper look and sound like a bleeding heart liberal democrat and anti-imperialist…maybe even a man of the people? I did say “almost” didn’t I?…..

The photo above was taken on 13 February 1961, when U.S. Ambassador to the UN Adlai Stevenson called president Kennedy to belatedly report Patrice Lumumba’s assassination. The photo was taken at the very moment JFK received the news.

To bring our narrative up to speed with current events and take it full circle—especially those that have to do with regime change and America’s interferences in the affairs of other countries for reasons generally unrelated to concerns on the part of the U.S. about freedom, democracy, liberty, and the much ballyhooed rule of law—we have to once again parachute back down the memory hole. This time, though, we look at JFK and his connection to the Lumumba story. The whole mess in the DRC was as earlier indicated all about the filthy lucre (or in au courant parlance, “it’s all about the ‘Benjamins’”).

The DRC was/is one of the most resource-rich nations certainly on the Dark Continent if not in the world. As Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela is currently finding out, few national entities can hold their own against the combined powers of the large multi-national corporations and the governments of countries like Britain, France, and America, when you have something they want. After all, the corporations own them all lock, stock, and barrel. All things considered, Lumumba never stood a chance of surviving as PM of the newly independent nation. The former had a very different definition of what it meant to be independent than the latter and his supporters. His assassination was preordained by the previous Eisenhower administration, and by most accounts, Kennedy was totally unaware of this.

It is also notable that JFK himself was infamously offed by the regime changers of his own era, those who felt threatened by his stance on any number of issues. One of the motives for his dispatch could well have been the president’s supportive position on post-colonial nationalism and the increasing—and to their former imperial overlords, annoying—assertiveness of their former colonies, along with their desire for independence with all the fruit that came with it. By supporting these stances, this by definition meant that Kennedy was perceived to be no friend of empire.

But notwithstanding his campaign rhetoric, it’s no surprise that current POTUS Donald Trump has fully embraced the regime changers agenda. As I have observed elsewhere on occasion, Trump is after all the consummate ‘chancer’; even a drop-dead ‘drongo’ like him knows which side on which to butter his bagel. Which brings to mind the late, great comedian Bill Hicks’ pitch-black routine about a hypothetical induction session given by the powers that be behind the throne to all new occupants of the White House.

In Hicks’ fanciful—yet at the same time still frighteningly plausible—scenario, the new POTUS (let’s imagine it’s The Donald) is ushered into the Situation Room to watch a video presentation. And, spoiler alert, they didn’t go there to hold hands, sing “Kumbaya”, and watch re-runs of the West Wing. As the first few frames come up, it becomes immediately obvious even to Trump this is an actual cinematic rendering of the events in Dallas, TX., on November 22, 1963, circa lunchtime. Unlike previous footage of this memorable event, this ‘version’ has never been made public, and presents a scenario that is completely at odds with the official narrative. The new president slowly but surely braces himself, fuelled by ever increasing shock as he watches the unfolding images reveal a mise-en-scène very different to the more familiar Zapruder footage.

In this version, though, he sees several shooters in a deadly crossfire—none of whom are located anywhere near the Texas School Book Depository Building, and one of whom mos def is situated behind the white picket fence at the top of the grassy knoll and looks nothing like Lee Harvey Oswald—all of which confirms for him unequivocally that every conspiracy theorist who’s ever attached their name to the JFK assassination after rejecting the Warren Commission report was indeed right. As the presentation comes to the end, there is a prolonged silence in the room; after he’s recovered a measure of composure, one of the presenters asks the freshly minted POTUS if he has any questions. He replies: “Nah I’m good; let’s go bomb Damascus!”

We all get the picture, even if my recollection loses something in the translation.

Pissing in the Information Pool (aka Imperial Public Relations)

Insofar as the situation in Venezuela goes, placing to one side the reality that hell has no fury like an empire scorned, it is perhaps instructive to consider other reasons as to why Uncle Sam has such a ‘hard on’ for the country and its current, ‘recalcitrant’ leader Maduro.

Again, a little backstory is key here. As most folks know, every military operation comes with its own unique identifier, a brand if one likes, to use marketing terminology. It’s uncertain if the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex™—which knows a thing or three about marketing to be sure, possibly much more than they do about actually winning wars—has contrived a specific nomenclature for any possible offensive operation in Venezuela in order to effect its regime change strategy. But it’s unlikely to compete with the one some bright spark in the George W Bush administration conjured up—in what can only be described as an inspired flash of lateral thinking—when they decided to invade Iraq in 2003 and ‘renovate’ Saddam Hussein’s regime from the inside out.

In its hegemonic zeal, Bush and Co. neglected (amongst many other things it should be noted), to pay close attention to the optics of its brand, and the message said brand might unintentionally convey to the public if one does not get one’s ducks flying in the same direction and at the same speed on such important details. This is especially important if one is looking to disguise the real objectives underpinning one’s not so benevolent intentions. As anyone who works in marketing or public relations will tell you, it’s all about the “optics”: Perception is nine-tenths of reality! Or put  another way: it is to a marketer what location is to a realtor.

All of which is to say, the planned, ultimately disastrous, monumentally expensive in blood and treasure invasion and occupation of Iraq was originally designated—wait for it—as Operation Iraqi Liberation, or for the ‘acronymically’ inclined, “OIL”. (No, folks, I am not making this shit up…As the inimitable and irrepressible Walter Brennan might have opined back in the day, “that’s no brag, that’s fact!”) It was apparently some time before the penny dropped and it was hastily rebranded Operation Iraqi Freedom (or “OIF”), lest people get the wrong idea. I don’t know about you, dear readers, but when to comes to acronyms, I much prefer “OIL” to “OIF”; it rolls off the tongue a lot easier for one thing. And it’s almost always gratifying when we catch our politicians and public figures in embarrassing moments, not that many easily succumb to such sentiments anyway.

President of Venezuela Nicholas Maduro – The Empire’s bete noir du jour. It’s all about the oil….again!

In any event, this linguistic ‘wardrobe malfunction’ as it were achieved the distinction as one of the great exemplars of the Freudian slip to be found anywhere in anyone’s political history, recent or not so. And in Venezuela, like in Iraq, make no mistake: it’s also all about the OIL (Even back in World War One, it was one of the big drivers of the outbreak of war, and not an insignificant determinant of its outcome. See Robert Newman’s History of Oil.) The lucky (or depending on your POV, unlucky) Venezuelans have more of the ‘Texas Tea’ than Saudi Arabia!…

That they also have much more “democracy” and “freedom” too than the Saudis is a given (with even the occasional fair and free election, and insofar as one might gather, far fewer public beheadings), though admittedly this might not be considered a huge achievement by some folks for any country regardless of the measure of their authoritarian persuasion to which they might or might not be inclined. Not that that metric either way has ever really counted for much either way in Washington, now or then. Like Superman does with his underpants then, these days the regime renovators wear their ‘Freudian slips‘ on the outside; indeed, they all but seem to do so with pride, like a wannabe Hollywood starlet sashaying down the red carpet on Oscar night in some famous couturier’s new frock. One only has to listen to John Bolton; if he mentions the word “Iran”, and though the thought may be unsettling to some, one can be reasonably sure his Y-fronts will be clearly visible.

When it comes to understanding the mindset of these folks, it appears they’ve resurrected then contrived their own bespoke version of the aforementioned Divine Right of Kings. Either that or like Superman, they really believe they are fighting for Truth™, Justice™, and the American Way™, all three of which are literally by definition a moving feast at the best of times in U.S. political discourse. And they see it is their God-given right—nay responsibility—to protect and save the rest of the planet’s denizens from themselves.

Such then is how they view their exceptional, indispensable place within the geopolitical firmament. The French in their imperial heyday called it their “mission civilisatrice. The scribe cum poet laureate of imperial excess Rudyard Kipling referred to something akin to it as the “White Man’s Burden”, one which he suggested none too subtly America would have to pick up after the British Empire ran out of puff. Which would suggest the Americans mos def did get the memo this time round. More accurately, we might simply describe it as pillaging, raping, plundering, rampaging, burning, looting, exploitation, and rampant desecration and wholesale destruction of communities, regions, and nations and their natural and human resources in order to enrich themselves and their fellow elites in their own countries simply because they can.

Sounds like a pretty good day’s work if/when you can both get it, and get away with it, eh? As the inimitable Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa once opined: ‘When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said “Let us pray”. We closed our eyes…. [and] When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.’ Sounds about right to me.

We should round out this diatribe with an admonishment from the late, great Chalmers Johnson, who along with being a True American Patriot was, like William Blum, no fan of his country’s relentless, ruthless empire building, and also one who knew a thing or three about “blowback”. ‘Although most Americans may be largely ignorant of what was, and still is, being done in their names, all are likely to pay a steep price—individually and collectively—for their nation’s continued efforts to dominate the global scene.’

One only needs to be able to read, have some basic research skills, and a willingness to have the scales pulled from their eyes to understand where he was coming from. Still, though, it does echo similar sentiments to Johnson’s, the very last word must go to Blum (to whom said “diatribe” is dedicated): ‘No matter how paranoid or conspiracy-minded you are, what your government is doing is actually worse than you can imagine’.

SNC Lavalin: The Corporate Face of the Ugly Canadian Abroad

While the Justin Trudeau government’s interference in the prosecution of SNC Lavalin highlights corporate influence over politics, it is also a story about a firm at the centre of Canadian foreign policy.

In a recent story titled “Canada’s Corrupt Foreign Policy Comes Home to Roost” I detailed some of SNC’s controversial international undertakings, corruption and government support. But, there’s a great deal more to say about the global behemoth.

With offices and operations in over 160 countries”, the company has long been the corporate face of this country’s foreign policy. In fact, it is not much of an exaggeration to describe some Canadian diplomatic posts as PR arms for the Montréal-based firm. What’s good for SNC has been defined as good for Canada.

Even as evidence of its extensive bribery began seeping out six years ago, SNC continued to receive diplomatic support and rich government contracts. Since then the Crown Corporation Export Development Canada issued SNC or its international customers at least $800-million in loans; SNC and a partner were awarded part of a contract worth up to $400 million to manage Canadian Forces bases abroad; Canada’s aid agency profiled a venture SNC co-led to curb pollution in Vietnam; Canada’s High  Commissioner Gérard Latulippe and Canadian Commercial Corporation vice president Mariette Fyfe-Fortin sought “to arrange an untendered, closed-door” contract for SNC to build a $163-million hospital complex in Trinidad and Tobago.

Ottawa’s support for SNC despite corruption allegations in fifteen countries is not altogether surprising since the company has proven to be a loyal foot soldier fighting for controversial foreign policy decisions under both Liberal and Conservative governments.

SNC’s nuclear division participated in a delegation to India led by International Trade Minister Stockwell Day a few months after Ottawa signed a 2008 agreement to export nuclear reactors to India, even though New Delhi refused to sign the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (India developed atomic weapons with Canadian technology). Describing it as the “biggest private contractor to [the] Canadian mission” in Afghanistan, the Ottawa Citizen referred to SNC in 2007 as “an indispensable part of Canada’s war effort.” In Haiti SNC participated in a Francophonie Business Forum trip seven months after the US, Canada and France overthrew the country’s elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Amidst the coup government’s vast political repression, the Montreal firm met foreign installed prime minister Gérard Latortue and the company received a series of Canadian government funded contracts in Haiti.

SNC certainly does not shy away from ethically dubious business. For years it manufactured grenades for the Canadian military and others at its plant in Le Gardeur, Quebec. According to its website, SNC opened an office in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1982 amidst the international campaign to boycott the apartheid regime. Later that decade SNC worked on the Canadian government funded Manantali Dam, which led to “economic ruin, malnutrition and disease to hundreds of thousands of West African farmers.”

More recently, SNC has been part of numerous controversial mining projects in Africa. It had a major stake in a Sherritt-led consortium that initiated one of the world’s largest nickel and cobalt mines in Ambatovy Madagascar. Backed by Canadian diplomats and Export Development Canada, the gigantic open pit mine tore up more than 1,300 acres of biologically rich rain forest home to a thousand species of flowering plants, fourteen species of lemurs and a hundred types of frogs.

According to West Africa Leaks, SNC dodged its tax obligations in Senegal. With no construction equipment or office of its own, SNC created a shell company in Mauritius to avoid paying tax. Senegal missed out on $8.9 million the Montréal firm should have paid the country because its ‘office’ was listed in tax free Mauritius. SNC has subsidiaries in low tax jurisdictions Jersey and Panama and the company was cited in the “Panama Papers” leak of offshore accounts for making a $22 million payment to a British Virgin Islands-based firm to secure contracts in Algeria. (In a case of the tax-avoiding fox protecting the public’s hen house, former SNC president and chairman of the board, Guy Saint-Pierre, was appointed to Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2007 advisory panel on Canada’s System of International Taxation.)

SNC has benefited from Ottawa’s international push for neoliberal reforms and Canada’s power within the World Bank. A strong proponent of neoliberalism, the Montréal firm has worked on and promoted privatizing water services in a number of countries. Alongside Global Affairs Canada, SNC promotes the idea that the public cannot build, operate or manage services and that the way forward is through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), which often go beyond a standard design-and-build-construction contract to include private sector participation in service operation, financing and decision making. SNC is represented on the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, which promotes PPPs globally. The Montréal firm has also sponsored many pro-privatization forums. With Rio Tinto, Alcan, Teck Resources and the Canadian International Development Agency, SNC funded and presented at a 2012 conference at McGill University on Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Towards a Framework for Resource Extraction Industries.

In an embarrassing comment on the PPP lobby, the year before SNC was charged with paying $22.5 million in bribes to gain the contract to build the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships and Thomson Reuters both awarded the MUHC project a prize for best PPP.

Further proof that in the corporate world what is good for SNC is seen as good for Canada, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants gave SNC its award for excellence in corporate governance in seven of the ten years before the company’s corruption received widespread attention.

In an indication of the impunity that reigns in the corporate world, the directors that oversaw SNC’s global corruption have faced little sanction. After the corruption scandal was revealed board chairman Gwyn Morgan, founder of EnCana, continued to write a regular column for the Globe and Mail Report on Business (currently Financial Post) and continues his membership in the Order of Canada. Ditto for another long serving SNC director who is also a member of the Order of Canada. In fact, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal was subsequently made a member of the Order of Ontario. Another Order of Canada and Order of Ontario member on SNC’s board, Lorna Marsden, also maintained her awards. Other long serving board members — Claude Mongeau, Pierre Lessard, Dee Marcoux, Lawrence Stevenson and David Goldman – received corporate positions and awards after overseeing SNC’s corruption.

The corporate face of this country’s foreign policy is not pretty. While Trudeau’s SNC scandal highlights corporate influence over politics, it’s also the story of the Ugly Canadian abroad.

The Movement And The 2020 Elections

The political system in the United States is a plutocracy, one that works for the benefit of the wealthy, not the people. Although we face growing crises on multiple fronts – economic insecurity, a violent and racist state, environmental devastation, never-ending wars and more – neither of the Wall Street-funded political parties will take action to respond. Instead, they are helping the rich get richer.

The wealth divide has gotten so severe that three people have more wealth than the bottom 50% of people in the country. Without the support of the rich, it is nearly impossible to compete in elections. In 2016, more than $6.5 billion was spent on the federal elections, a record that will surely be broken in 2020. More than half that money came from less than 400 people, from fewer than 150 families.

People are aware of this corruption and are leaving the two Wall Street parties. According to the census, 21.4% of people do not register to vote, and in 2018, less than a majority of registered voters voted. According to Pew Research, independents (40% of voters) outnumber Democrats (30%) and Republicans (24%). The largest category of registered voters is non-voters. Yet, the media primarily covers those who run within the two parties, or billionaire independent candidates who do not represent the views of most people.

This raises a question for social movements: What can be done to advance our agenda over the next two years when attention will be devoted mostly to two parties and the presidential race?

Progressives Failed to Make the Democratic Party a Left-Progressive Party

People in the United States are trapped in an electoral system of two parties. Some progressives have tried — once again — to remake the Democratic Party into a people’s party.

We interviewed Nick Brana, a former top political organizer for the Sanders presidential campaign, on the Popular Resistance podcast, which will be aired Monday, about his analysis of the Democratic Party. Brana describes the efforts of progressives to push the party to the left over the past three years and how they were stopped at every turn. They tried to:

  • Change the Democratic Party Platform: The platform is nonbinding and meaningless but even so, the Party scrapped the platform passed by the delegates the following year and replaced it with a more conservative one called the “Better Deal.”
  • Replace the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair. They discovered the chair is picked by the DNC, which is made up of corporate lobbyists, consultants, and superdelegates, who picked Hillary Clinton’s candidate Tom Perez, over Rep. Keith Ellison, former co-chair of the Progressive Caucus.
  • Replace the DNC membership with grassroots activists. Instead, at the DNC’s  2017 fall meeting, the Party purged progressives from the DNC, making it more corporate and elitist.
  • Fix the Presidential primary process after it was disclosed that the DNC weighted the scale in favor of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. The Democrats rigged the Rules Commission to accomplish the opposite; i.e., kept closed primaries to shut out progressive independent voters, kept joint fundraising agreements between the DNC and presidential campaigns, slashed the number of states that hold caucuses, which favor progressive candidates, and refused to eliminate superdelegates, moving them to the second ballot at the convention but reserving the right to force a second ballot if they choose.

Further cementing their power, Democrats added a “loyalty oath” which allows the DNC chair to unilaterally deny candidates access to the ballot if he deems the candidate has been insufficiently “faithful” to the Party during their life. And the DNC did nothing to remove corporate and billionaire money from the primary or the Party, ensuring Wall Street can continue purchasing its politicians.

The results of the 2018 election show the Blue Wave was really a Corporate Wave. Brana describes how only two progressives out of 435 members of Congress unseated House Democrats in all of 2018: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley. When Pelosi was challenged as leader of the House Democrats, she was challenged from a right-wing Blue Dog Democrat, not a progressive Democrat, with many “progressives” including AOC and Rep. Jayapal speaking up for Pelosi’s progressive credentials.

In contrast to the failure of progressives, the militarists had a banner 2018 election. The 11 former intelligence officials and veterans were the largest groups of victorious Democratic challengers in Republican districts. Throughout the 2018 election cycle, Democratic Party leaders worked against progressive candidates, for instance pushing them to oppose Medicare for all.

This is an old story that each generation learns for itself: the Democratic Party cannot be remade into a people’s party. It has been a big business party from its founding as a slaveholders party in the early 1800s, when slaves were the most valuable “property” in the country, to its Wall Street funding today. Lance Selfa, in “The Democrats: A Critical History,” shows how the Democratic Party has consistently betrayed the needs of ordinary people while pursuing an agenda favorable to Wall Street and US imperialism. He shows how political movements from the union and workers movements to the civil rights movement to the antiwar movement, among others, have been betrayed and undermined by the Democratic Party.

Social Movements Must Be Independent of the Corporate Parties

The lesson is mass movements need to build their own party. The movement should not be distracted by the media and bi-partisan politicos who urge us to vote against what is necessary for the people and planet. At this time of crisis, we cannot settle for false non-solutions.

Howie Hawkins, one of the founders of the Green Party and the first candidate to campaign on a Green New Deal, describes, in From The Bottom Up: The Case For An Independent Left Party, how Trumpism is weakening as its rhetoric of economic populism has turned into extreme reactionary Republicanism for the millionaires and billionaires. He explains that Democrats are not the answer either, as “they won’t replace austerity capitalism and militaristic imperialism to which the Democratic Party is committed.”

The result, writes Hawkins, is we must commit ourselves “to build an independent, membership-based working-class party.” Even the New Deal-type reforms of Bernie Sanders “do not end the oppression, alienation, and disempowerment of working people” and do not stop “capitalism’s competitive drive for mindless growth that is devouring the environment and roasting the planet.”

Hawkins urges an ecosocialist party that creates economic democracy; i.e., social ownership of the means of production for democratic planning and allocation of economic surpluses as well as confronting the climate crisis. He explains socialism is a “movement of the working class acting for itself, independently, for its own freedom.”

He urges membership-based parties building from the local level that are independent of the two corporate-funded parties.  Local branches would educate people on issues to support a mass movement for transformational change. Hawkins is a long-time anti-racism activist. He became politically active as a teenager when he saw the mistreatment of the Mississippi Freedom Democrats, who elected sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer as their co-chair. He believes a left party must confront racial and ethnic tensions that have divided the working class throughout its history.

Hawkins points out the reasons why the time is ripe for this. Two-thirds of people are from the working class compared to one-third in 1900. The middle class (e.g. teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, technicians) holds progressive positions on policy issues creating super-majority support for critical issues on our agenda. The working and middle classes are better educated than ever. Over the last forty years, their living standards have declined, especially the younger cohort that is starting life in debt like no other generation. Finally, the environmental crisis is upon us and can no longer be ignored creating a decisive need for radical remaking of the economy.

Critical Issues To Educate And Mobilize Around

Popular Resistance identified a 16 point People’s Agenda for economic, racial and environmental justice as well as peace.  Three issues on which we should focus our organizing over the next few years include:

National Improved Medicare For All: The transformation of healthcare in the US from an insurance-based market system to a national public health system is an urgent need with over 100,000 deaths annually that would not occur if we had a system like the UK or France, two-thirds of bankruptcies (more than 500,000 per year) are due to medical illness even though most of those who were bankrupted had insurance, 29 million people do not have health insurance and 87 million people are underinsured.

While many Democrats are supporting expanded and improved Medicare for all, including presidential candidates, the movement needs to push them to truly mean it and not to support fake solutions that use our language; e.g., Medicare for some (public options, Medicare buy-ins and reducing the age of Medicare). Winning Medicare for all will not only improve the health of everyone, it will be a great economic equalizer for the poor, elderly and communities of color. This is an issue we can win if we continue to educate and organize around it.

Join our Health Over Profit for Everyone campaign.

Enacting a Green New Deal. The Green New deal has been advocated for since 2006, first by Global Greens, then by Green Party candidates at the state level and then by Jill Stein in her two presidential runs. The issue is now part of the political agenda thanks to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She and Senator Ed Markey led the introduction of a framework for a Green New Deal, which is supported by more than 50 Democrats including many presidential candidates.

Their resolution is a framework that the movement needs to educate and organize to make into real legislation to urgently confront the climate crisis, which has been mishandled by successive US presidents. The movement must unite for a real Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal has the potential to not only confront the climate crisis by shifting to a carbon-free/nuclear-free energy economy but to also shift to a new economy that is fairer and provides economic security. Remaking energy so it serves the people, including socializing energy systems; e.g., public utilities, could also provide living wage jobs and strengthen worker’s rights. It will require the remaking of housing, which could include social housing for millions of people, a shift from agribusiness to regenerative agriculture and remaking finance to include public banks to pay for a Green New Deal. The Democratic leadership is already seeking to kill the Green New Deal, so the movement has its work cut out for it.

Stopping Wars and Ending US Empire: US empire is in decline but is still causing great destruction and chaos around the world. US militarism is expensive. The empire economy does not serve people, causing destabilization, death and mass migration abroad as well as austerity measures at home. Over the next decade, the movement has an opportunity to define how we end empire in the least destructive way possible.

As US dominance wanes, the US is escalating conflicts with other great powers. The US needs to end 15 years of failed wars in the Middle East and 18 years in Afghanistan. In Latin America, US continues to be regime change against governments that seek to represent the interests of their people especially in Venezuela where the threat of militarism is escalating, but also in Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Cuba. The migrant issue being used by Trump to build a wall along the US-Mexican border is created by US policies in Central America. And, the US needs to stop the militarization of Africa and its neocolonial occupation by Africom.

Take action: Participate in the Feb. 23, 2019, international day of action against the US intervention in Venezuela and the “Hands-Off” national protest in Washington, DC on March 16, 2019.

There will also be actions around April 4, when NATO holds its 70th-anniversary meeting in Washington, DC, on the same day as the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death and his Beyond Vietnam speech.

Join the Spring Actions against NATO in Washington, DC.

While the US lives in a mirage democracy with manipulated elections, there is a lot of work we can do to build a mass movement that changes the direction of the country. This includes building independent political parties to represent that movement in elections.

Enough Western Meddling and Interventions: Let the Venezuelan People Decide

American politicians from the two main parties have finally found something to agree upon: more intervention in Venezuela.

“Now, despite (President Nicolas) Maduro, there is hope (in Venezuela)”, wrote Democratic Senator, Dick Durbin, in USA Today. “These events (meaning the current political instability in the country) are a welcome development of Latin American nations defending democracy.”

“He’s picked a battle he can’t win,” Republican Senator, Marco Rubio, said, referring to Maduro in an interview, quoted in the New York Times. “It’s just a matter of time. The only thing we don’t know is how long it will take – and whether it will be peaceful or bloody.”

This unprecedented unity between Democrats and Republicans reflects an American legacy that precedes the current Donald Trump Administration by nearly two centuries. In fact, it goes much further and deeper than the US hegemonic approach to South America, to encompass the entire Western political hemisphere, with the exception of Italy, Norway and Greece.

The West’s love-affair with intervention has little to do with restoring democracy, either in Venezuela, or anywhere else. ‘Democracy’ has been used throughout the 20th century as a tool that provided legal and moral rationalization for US and Western meddling. It matters little to Western leaders that Maduro was elected in presidential elections deemed ‘transparent‘ by international observers in May 2018.

Notwithstanding Maduro’s own shortcomings in uniting his people in the face of a most pressing economic crisis, what gives Trump, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, France’s Emmanuel Macron the right to cast a deciding vote on who rules over Venezuela?

Sadly, Venezuela is neither the precedent, nor the exception. South America – as are the Middle East and Africa – has for long been perceived as if a Western protectorate going back many years. They are all rich with oil and other essential raw materials, but are also strategically significant in terms of global hegemony. Colonialism might have ended in its traditional form (with Palestine being the main exception) but it lives on in other ways.

While the US and its Western allies are strongly challenged by rising economic and military powers in Asia, the fate of South America, the Middle East and Africa is yet to be decided. The US, in particular, has always viewed South America as its own turf, and has either directly or indirectly contributed to coups, political and economic instability throughout the region.

US National Security Adviser, John Bolton, has garnered a terrible reputation due to his role in the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent destabilization of the Middle East. Although discredited for his thoughtless and often militant approach to politics, he was resurrected by the Trump administration and is now travelling the world sowing the seeds of political and military discord.

While speaking about Washington’s need to “protect democracy” in Venezuela, Bolton admitted that a coup in Venezuela is an opportunity to exploit the country’s vast oil and natural resources.

Bolton explained the economic logic of US intervention in an interview with Fox News, soon after Venezuelan opposition leader and a main ally of the US, Juan Guaidó, declared himself an ‘interim president’ on January 23.

A regime change in Venezuela “will make a big difference to the United States economically, if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela,” Bolton said.

But how is that to be achieved?

During a press conference at the White House a few days after the coup, Bolton “appeared to disclose confidential notes written on a yellow pad that included a plan to send US troops to Colombia,” in preparation for a military intervention in Venezuela.

Hasn’t Iraq quelled Bolton’s appetite for intervention, considering that the entire Middle East region now subsists in political uncertainty and unrelenting wars? And if Bolton is yet to get a hint that the world is rapidly changing, and that it behooves his country to reconsider its destructive interventionist foreign policy, why are Democrats joining in, along with the ‘liberal’ and ‘socialist’ European powers?

“Old habits die hard,” as the saying goes, and it seems that Western politicians refuse to abandon the old interventionist maxim and colonialist mentality through which they ruled the world for far too long.

This view is not meant to undermine the horrific economic conditions in Venezuela or overlook the endemic corruption in that country, which need to be understood and, if needed, criticized. But while the Venezuelan people have every right to protest their government, demanding greater accountability and economic solutions to the crushing poverty facing the country, no one has the right to meddle in the affairs of Venezuela or any other sovereign country, anywhere.

Moreover, it must be clear that neither the US nor its allies are interested in helping Venezuela to overcome its economic woes. In fact, they seem to be doing everything in their power to exacerbate the problem.

Hyperinflation and the crumbling of Venezuela’s oil industries led to a dramatic economic downturn in recent years, with about ten percent of the population fleeing the country. Poor policy choices also led to the significant weakening of local production and increasing devaluation of the country’s currency.

Venezuela has been a target on the American radar for many years. The deterioration of its economy, however, was the perfect opportunity for the US to trigger its Venezuelan allies into action, this leading to the current coup and political stalemate.

But those counting on the US to stabilize Venezuela in the long run are ignorant of history. The US government has hardly ever been a source of stability in South America, certainly not since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Since then, the US has done more than mere meddling, but engaged in outright political and military interventions.

The situation in Venezuela is dire, with children reportedly dying as a result of the lack of medicine and food. The country is also gearing up for a US military intervention and possible civil war.

Considering that all of these tragic predictions have already been witnessed in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere, South American leaders, and the few sensible voices around the world must move to block any further US meddling, and allow the people of Venezuela, through democracy, to determine their own future.

Now Chad, then Mali: Why African Countries Are Normalizing with Israel

Forget the hype. Israel’s ‘security technology’ has nothing to do with why some African countries are eager to normalize relations with Israel.

What is it that Israel is able to offer in the technology sector to Chad, Mali and others that the United States, the European Union, China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa and others cannot?

The answer is ‘nil’, and the moment we accept such a truth is the moment we start to truly understand why Chad, a Muslim-majority country, has just renewed its diplomatic ties with Israel. And, by extension, the same logic applies to Mali, another Muslim-majority country that is ready to normalize with Israel.

Chadian President, Idriss Deby, was in Israel last November, a trip that was touted as another Benjamin Netanyahu-engineered breakthrough by the Israeli government and its allied media.

In return, Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu, paid Deby a visit to N’djamena where they agreed to resume diplomatic ties. In their joint press conference, Deby spoke of ‘deals’ signed between Chad and Israel, but failed to provide more details.

Israel may try to present itself as the savior of Africa, but no matter how comparatively strong the Israeli economy is, Tel Aviv will hardly have the keys to solving the woes of Chad, Mali or any other country on the African continent.

Israeli media is actively contributing to the fanfare that has accompanied Netanyahu’s ‘scramble for Africa’, and is now turning its focus to preparations under way for another ‘historic visit”, that of Malian President, Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, to Israel in the “coming weeks”.

Netanyahu is keen to schedule Maiga’s trip just before the April 9 date, when Israelis go to the polls to vote in the country’s early general elections.

Israel’s motives to normalize with Africa are inspired by the same reasoning behind Netanyahu’s international outreach to South America and other regions in the global South.

Despite the Trump-Netanyahu love affair at the moment, Israel has no faith in the future of the US in the Middle East region. The current Donald Trump administration, as the previous Barack Obama administration, has made clear and calculated moves to slowly deploy out of the region and ‘pivot’ elsewhere.

This has alerted Netanyahu to the fact that Israel would have to diversify its alliances as an American veto at the United Nations Security Council is no longer a guarantor to Israel’s regional dominance.

For years, Netanyahu has pursued an alternative course, which has become the only path for Israel to escape its international isolation. Unfortunately for Palestinians, Israel’s new strategy, of seeking separate alliances with UN General Assembly members seems to be paying dividends. Israel now hopes that other countries that have historically stood on the side of Palestinians – voting for Palestinian rights as a bloc at the UN – will follow the Chad and Mali examples.

The struggle between Israel and Arab countries in Africa, according to Dan Avni – a top Israeli Foreign Ministry official during the 1950s and ‘60s – is “a fight of life and death for us.” That statement was made during a time that the US had not fully and ardently committed to the Israeli colonial project, and Israel was in a desperate need to break away from its isolation.

Following the expansion of the Israeli colonial project in Palestine and other Arab countries after the 1967 war, the US unconditional political, economic and military support for Israel has addressed many of Israel’s perceived vulnerabilities, empowering it to become the uncontested bully of the whole region. At the time, neither Africa mattered, nor did the rest of the international community.

But now, a new Great Game is changing the rules once more. Not only is the US losing its grip in the Middle East and Africa – thanks to the rise of Russian and Chinese influences, respectively – Washington is also busy elsewhere, desperate to sustain its dwindling global hegemony for a bit longer.

Although ties between Washington and Tel Aviv are still strong, Israeli leaders are aware of a vastly changing political landscape. According to Israeli calculation, the ‘fight of life and death’ is drawing near, once again.

The answer? Enticing poor countries, in Africa and elsewhere, with political support and economic promises so that they would deny Palestinians a vote at the UN.

It is no surprise that the governments of Chad and Mali are struggling, not only economically, but also in terms of political legitimacy as well. Torn in the global struggle for dominance between the US and China, they feel pressed to make significant choices that could make the difference between their survival or demise in future upheavals.

For these countries, an alliance with Israel is a sure ticket to the Washington political club. Such membership could prove significant in terms of economic aid, political validation and, more importantly, an immunity against pesky military coups.

Considering this, those who are stuck discussing the Israeli ‘charm offensive’ in Africa based on the claim of Israel’s technological advancement and hyped water technology are missing the forest for the trees.

It is important to note that it is not the road to Tel Aviv that N’Djamena and Bamako are seeking, but rather the road to Washington itself. In Africa, as in other parts of the global South, it is often the US, not the UN that bestows and denies political legitimacy. For African leaders who enjoy no democratic credence, a handshake with Netanyahu could be equivalent to a political life insurance.

So, for now, Israel will continue to walk this fine line, usurping American resources and political support as always, while learning how to walk on its own, by developing a foreign policy that it hopes will spare it further isolation in the future.

It is yet to dawn on Israeli leaders that, perhaps, a shortcut to breaking its isolation can be achieved through respecting international law, the rights of the Palestinian people and the territorial sovereignty of its neighbors.

Diplomatic ties with Chad and Mali may garner Netanyahu a few more votes next April, but they will also contribute to the Israeli illusion that it can be an international darling and an Apartheid regime, simultaneously.

Capitalist Agriculture: Putting Soil on a Diet of Snake Oil and Doughnuts

In their rush to readily promote neoliberal dogma and corporate-inspired PR, many government officials, scientists and journalists take as given that profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be custodians of natural assets. The premise is that under capitalism water, food, soil and agriculture should be handed over to powerful and wholly corrupt transnational corporations to milk for profit, under the pretence these entities are somehow serving the needs of humanity.

These natural assets (‘the commons’) belong to everyone and any stewardship should be carried out in the common interest by local people assisted by public institutions and governments acting on their behalf, not by private transnational corporations driven by self-interest and the maximization of profit by any means possible.

Concerns about what is in the public interest or what is best for the environment lies beyond the scope of hard-headed commercial interests and should ideally be the remit of elected governments and civil organisations. However, the best-case scenario for private corporations is to have supine, co-opted agencies or governments. And if current litigation cases in the US and the ‘Monsanto Papers’ court documents tell us anything, this is exactly what they set out to create.

Of course, we have known how corporations like Monsanto (and Bayer) have operated for many years, whether it is by bribery, smear campaigns, faking data, co-opting agencies and key figures, subverting science or any of the other actions or human rights abuses that the Monsanto Tribunal shed light on.

Behind the public relations spin of helping to feed the world is the roll-out of an unsustainable model of agriculture based on highly profitable (GM) corporate seeds and massive money-spinning health- and environment-damaging proprietary chemical inputs that we now know lacked proper regulatory scrutiny and should never have been commercialised in the first place. In effect, transnational agribusiness companies have sought to marginalise alternative approaches to farming and create dependency on their products.

Localisation and traditional methods of food production have given way to globalised supply chains dominated by transnational companies policies and actions which have resulted in the colonisation of land in the Global South as well as the destruction of habitat and livelihoods, ecocide, mass displacement of peoples and the imposition of corporate-controlled, chemical-intensive (monocrop) agriculture that weds farmers and regions to a wholly exploitative system of globalised capitalism. Whether it involves the undermining or destruction of what were once largely self-sufficient agrarian economies in Africa or the devastating impacts of soy cultivation in Argentina or palm oil production in Indonesia, transnational agribusiness and capitalism cannot be greenwashed.

Soil on a doughnut diet

One of the greatest natural assets that humankind has is soil. It can take 500 years to generate an inch of soil yet just a few generations to destroy. When you drench soil with proprietary synthetic chemicals, introduce company-patented genetically tampered crops or continuously monocrop as part of a corporate-controlled industrial farming system, you kill essential microbes, upset soil balance and end up feeding soil a limited “doughnut diet” of unhealthy inputs (and you also undermine soil’s unique capacity for carbon storage and its potential role in combatting climate change).

Armed with their synthetic biocides, this is what the transnational agritech companies do. In their arrogance (and ignorance), these companies claim to know what they are doing and attempt to get the public and various agencies to bow before the altar of corporate ‘science’ and its scientific priesthood.

But in reality, they have no real idea about the long-term impacts their actions have had on soil and its complex networks of microbes and microbiological processes. Soil microbiologists are themselves still trying to comprehend it all.

That much is clear in this article, where Brian Barth discusses a report by the American Society of Microbiologists (ASM). Acknowledging that farmers will need to produce 70 to 100 per cent more food to feed a projected nine billion humans by 2050, the introduction to the report states:

Producing more food with fewer resources may seem too good to be true, but the world’s farmers have trillions of potential partners that can help achieve that ambitious goal. Those partners are microbes.

Linda Kinkel of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Plant Pathology is reported by Barth as saying:

We understand only a fraction of what microbes do to aid in plant growth.

Microbes can help plants better tolerate extreme temperature fluctuations, saline soils and other challenges associated with climate change. For instance, Barth reports that microbiologists have learned to propagate a fungus that colonizes cassava plants and increases yields by up to 20 per cent. Its tiny tentacles extend far beyond the roots of the cassava to unlock phosphorus, nitrogen and sulphur in the soil and siphon it back to their host.

According to the article, a group of microbiologists have challenged themselves to bring about a 20 per cent increase in global food production and a 20 per cent decrease in fertilizer and pesticide use over the next 20 years – without all the snake oil-vending agribusiness interests in the middle.

Feeding the world? 

These microbiologists are correct. What is required is a shift away from what is increasingly regarded as discredited Green Revolution ideology. The chemical-intensive green revolution has helped the drive towards greater monocropping and has resulted in less diverse diets and less nutritious foods. Its long-term impact has led to soil degradation and mineral imbalances, which in turn have adversely affected human health.1

Adding weight to this argument, the authors of this paper from the International Journal of Environmental and Rural Development state (references in article):

Cropping systems promoted by the green revolution have increased the food production but also resulted in reduced food-crop diversity and decreased availability of micronutrients. Micronutrient malnutrition is causing increased rates of chronic diseases (cancer, heart diseases, stroke, diabetes and osteoporosis) in many developing nations; more than 3 billion people are directly affected by the micronutrient deficiencies. Unbalanced use of mineral fertilizers and a decrease in the use of organic manure are the main causes of the nutrient deficiency in the regions where the cropping intensity is high.

(Note: we should adopt a cautious approach when attributing increases in food production to the green revolution technology/practices).

The authors imply that the link between micronutrient deficiency in soil and human nutrition is increasingly regarded as important:

Moreover, agricultural intensification requires an increased nutrient flow towards and greater uptake of nutrients by crops. Until now, micronutrient deficiency has mostly been addressed as a soil and, to a smaller extent, plant problem. Currently, it is being addressed as a human nutrition problem as well. Increasingly, soils and food systems are affected by micronutrients disorders, leading to reduced crop production and malnutrition and diseases in humans and plants. Conventionally, agriculture is taken as a food-production discipline and was considered a source of human nutrition; hence, in recent years many efforts have been made to improve the quality of food for the growing world population, particularly in the developing nations.

Referring to India, Stuart Newton’s states:

The answers to Indian agricultural productivity is not that of embracing the international, monopolistic, corporate-conglomerate promotion of chemically-dependent GM crops… India has to restore and nurture her depleted, abused soils and not harm them any further, with dubious chemical overload, which are endangering human and animal health. (p. 24).

Newton provides insight into the importance of soils and their mineral compositions and links their depletion to the green revolution. In turn, these depleted soils cannot help but lead to mass malnourishment. This is quite revealing given that proponents of the green revolution claim it helped reduced malnutrition.

And Newton has a valid point. India is losing 5,334 million tonnes of soil every year due to soil erosion, much of which is attributed to the indiscreet and excessive use of fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research reports that soil is become deficient in nutrients and fertility.

The US has possibly 60 years of farming left due to soil degradation. The UK has possibly 100 harvests left in its soils.

We can carry on down the route of chemical-intensive (and soil-suffocating, nutritionally inferior GM crops), poisonous agriculture, where our health, soil and the wider environment from Punjab to the Gulf of Mexico continue to be sacrificed on the altar of corporate profit. Or we can shift to organic farming and agroecology and investment in indigenous models of agriculture as advocated by various high-level agencies and reports.

The increasingly globalised industrial food regime that transnational agribusiness promotes is not feeding the world and is also responsible for some of the planet’s most pressing political, social and environmental crises – not least hunger and poverty. This system, the capitalism driving it and the corporations that fuel and profit from it are illegitimate and destructive.

These companies quite naturally roll-out their endless spin that we can’t afford to live without them. But we can no longer afford to live with them. As the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver says:

The power of the corporations over governments and over the scientific community is extremely important. If you want to deal with pesticides, you have to deal with the companies.

As we currently see in litigation cases involving Monsanto in the US, part of ‘dealing’ with these corporations (and hopefully eventually their board members and those who masquerade as public servants but who act on their behalf) should involve the law courts.

I would go further than Elver by saying that while dealing with these corporations is a step forward, we must also address the root cause: capitalism and its international relations of production and consumption. And we must also offer solutions – beginning with an agroecology that is underpinned by a strong ecosocialist political vision.

  1. See this report on India by botanist Stuart Newton, p. 9 onward.

Gabon and Coup Mania

It starts with a presumption, makes its way through a discussion, and becomes a set, moulded stereotype: Africa is the continent of tin pot dictatorships, unstable leaderships, and coups.  Latin America, attuned to brigandage and frontier mentalities, is not far behind.  Such instances lend themselves to the inevitable opportunity to exploit the exception.  Gabon, ruled by the same family without interruption since 1967, is being stated as a possible example.

The news so far, if one dares trust it, suggests that a coup was put down in the African state with the loss of two lives.  Seven of the plotters were captured a mere five hours after they seized a radio station, during which Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang broadcast a message claiming that President Ali Bongo’s New Year’s Eve message “reinforced doubts about the president’s ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office.”  Bongo, for his part, had seemed indisposed, suffering a stroke in October and slurring his words in a speech during a December 31 television appearance.

As with other attempted coups, the plotters portrayed themselves as up-market planners in the Brutus mould.  They were killing Caesar to save Rome.  In this case, the men of the Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon were keen to “restore democracy”.  The attempt was put down with some speed.  “The situation is under control,” came a government statement some hours after security forces regained control of the RTG state broadcasting headquarters.  Guy-Betrand Mapangou, true to the sort of form shown by a regime unmoved, insisted that, “The government is in place.  The institutions are in place.”

The coup fascination may not be healthy but is nonetheless fascinatingly morbid.  Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne from the University of Central Florida and University of Kentucky cannot get enough of the business, and have compiled a register of failure.  These political scientists insist on defining coups as “illegal and overt attempts by the military or other elites within the state apparatus to unseat the sitting executive”.  But having to presumably stake some exceptional view to the field, the authors insist that those who go through with a coup have power for at least seven days.  (Why not six or eight?)

This cottage industry invariably produces much smoke but a conspicuous lack of fire.  In 2016, with the failed coup in Turkey unfolding, James McCarthy, writing for Wales Online, insisted on a guidebook approach, drawing from Thyne and Powell’s research.  They, according to McCarthy, “found there were 457 coup attempts between 1950 and 2010.  Of those, 227 were successful and 230 failed.”  Invariably, the Americas and Africa feature as the prominent zones of coups.

The BBC has felt free to run with a map featuring African states “with the highest number of coups since 1952,” a kind of morbid horror show of instability.  Sudan is a big league player in this regard with 14, followed by other states which seem to be in competition with each other (Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Benin and Nigeria come in with eight; Sierra Leone and Ghana sport ten).

Unmentioned in the show was the number of times conspirators, cabals and groups have been encouraged, courtesy of external powers, to sabotage fledgling democratic regimes and back counter-revolutionary agents.  As important as the coup plotters are the coup backers, often to be found in Washington and European policy planning departments and company boardrooms.  The story of stuttered, mutated revolutions in Africa and Latin America is very much one of externally directed coups as much as failed local experiments.

The issue, as if it matters much, about whether a coup is, or is not happening, is a constant theme.  According to Powell, “Coup leaders almost invariably deny their action was a coup in an effort to appear legitimate.”  This is banally leaden as an observation.  All coups must, by definition, be asserted as acts of dissimulation, and not savage, all extirpating revolutions.  To merely depose a leadership is, by definition, conservative.  In a modern state, decapitation might create some initial chaos but leaves the structure, for the most part, intact.  Coups often have the effect of shoring up the junta, in whatever form it takes.

The field of coup gazing also has a moral edge.  There are coups with supposedly good import, and those that are not.  Portugal’s “Carnation Revolution” ending the seemingly interminable rule of António de Oliveira Salazar, is cited as one example.  A coup might engender fertile grounds for a democratic movement, or suffer entropic decline before authoritarian reassertion.  A good coup, speculated the Washington Post, took place in Burkina Faso in 2015, with the end of Blaise Compaoré’s rule.  The same paper does note the rather banal qualifier: that “policymakers and academics should not get too excited about the allegedly positive consequences of coups in Africa.”  African armies, for instance, might propel democratic elections; they might just as well remain in power.

Scholars such as Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way argue that multiparty elections in the aftermath of change can just be a front.  Democratic talk can be so much babble before manipulating strongmen.  “Competitive authoritarian regimes,” argue the authors, can entrench themselves.  All this seems beside the point in Gabon, a distant murmur to the academic discourse and policy ponderings that dazzle a good number of analysts.  The obvious point tends to be same: coups tend to be rooted in evolutionary orthodoxy rather than earth shattering revolution.  They are also often the work of unseen hands behind unstable thrones.  Identify those hands, and you may well have some answers.

The Bolton Speech on Africa: A Case of the Wolf and the Foxes

Malcolm X reminded us that we had to be careful about the difference between the wolf and the fox. The wolf for black people was the hardcore, racist white folks with the hoods and clearly articulated stance in support of white supremacy. The fox, on the other hand, was the liberals who were supposed to be our friends. Their ultimate support for white supremacy was always just as deadly but sugarcoated in diversionary language like “humanitarian intervention” and the “responsibility to protect.” The game, according to Malcolm, was that black folks would recognize danger of the wolf and run from the wolf straight into the jaws of the fox with the consequence being just as fatal because both the fox and the wolf are members of the same canine family.

This captures in many ways not only the nature of the ongoing saga of U.S. politics in general where there is really no substantial difference in the class interests and fundamental priorities of the two capitalist parties, but specific policies like U.S. policy in Africa.

In a speech last week before an audience at the right-wing Heritage Foundation, John Bolton unveiled the Trump administration’s “new Africa Strategy.” In what could only be characterized as another example of the White supremacist racial blind-spot, Bolton revealed an understanding of Africa and the role played by the U.S. and Europe that was a compete departure from the reality of the systematic underdevelopment of that continent by Europe and the U.S.

In Bolton’s world, the predatory powers in Africa were not the European powers that raided the continent for black bodies to create the wealth of Europe and then carved up a weakened and devastated Africa among those same powers in 1884. It wasn’t the U.S. that murdered African leaders, overthrew African states and imposed brutal neo-colonial leaders.  No, the real threat to African states were the “predatory” Chinese and, for whatever reasons, he threw in the Russians, that, according to Bolton “stunt economic growth in Africa and…threaten financial independence of African nations.”

Therefore, in typical colonialist arrogance in which Bolton’s analysis represents objective truth, he states that African states have a choice. Either surrender to Chinese and Russia interests, or align themselves with the U.S. to secure “foreign aid” and avoid subversion from the U.S.!

Of course, there is a different position, a reading of African history from the point of view of the African. From that perspective, it was the predatory practices of European and U.S. imperialist policies that reduced Africa to its present situation as the richest continent on the planet in terms of natural resources, land and people – to a balkanized continent of 54 nations, economically disarticulated, politically fragmented and still suffering the cultural effects of alien colonial cultural imposition.

Whatever the national intentions China or Russia may have in Africa, only the most jaded or confused could conclude that economic relations with these states and in particular with China provides African states a modicum of space to exercise more effective national sovereignty than had ever been afforded them by the European colonial powers that craved up and unmercifully exploited African labor and land.

But that is the point and the intent of U.S. Africa policy over the last seventy-three years since the end of the second imperialist war in 1945.

Bolton and the racist policy-makers in Washington don’t want to see African nations with any space to act independently of the dependence imposed on them by predatory trade regimes, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund debt peonage.

While China provides investment in African infrastructure and production capacities, the U.S. offers Africa militarism and subversion from Libya to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Bolton didn’t mention in his statement that U.S. strategy for Africa which centers military recolonization would be a continuation of the U.S. policies of the last few decades and in particular during the Obama administration that saw the expansion of the U.S. military presence by 1,900 %.

It is clear that the Trump “strategy” offers nothing substantially different. The policy continues to be more guns, more bases and more subversion.

The destruction of Libya that resulted in the enhanced military capacities of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, the disastrous decision to carve up the Sudan and create yet another colonial entity called South Sudan, military and political support for President Kagame of Rwanda, President Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo, President Museveni of Uganda and expansion of AFRICOM reflects the murderous continuity of U.S. African policy.

When Bolton claims that in order to assist with African economic development it is “developing a new initiative called “Prosper Africa,” which will support U.S. investment across the continent, grow Africa’s middle class, and improve the overall business climate in the region.”

This approach is not in any way a departure from the Bush-Obama “African Growth and Opportunity Act” which made similar claims and focused on a concentration of extractive trade policies to exploit African natural resources and served as basis of continued conflict over those resources in nations like the Democratic Republic of the Congo where more than six million Africans have died in resource-based conflicts.

Bolton’s claim that it is Russia and China that “stunt economic growth in Africa, and “threaten financial independence of African nations”, represents another example of either cynicism or the psychopathology of the white supremacist colonialist mind that renders it unable to cognitively apprehend objective reality.

Therefore, Bolton’s speech and Trump’s administration policy was not so much a new strategy but a cruder reaffirmation of a political stance on Africa that has always put U.S. interests first, absent the flowery language and liberal pretentions of Obama’s Cairo speech earlier in his administration. From Obama’s “exceptional nation” to Trump’s “Make American Great Again,” it has always been about putting the interest of U.S. imperialism first.

The people of Africa must not allow the African continent to be drawn into competing blocs during last death thrones of a dying neo-liberal capitalist world system.

We say to Bolton, Trump and the neo-liberal democrats: U.S. out of Africa, Shut down AFRICOM, Africa for Africans at home and abroad!

Our radical imaginations can conceive of a world in which the choice is beyond the wolf and the fox. We are on the side of the majority, the majority of the world that is suffering the structural violence of a global neo-liberal capitalist/imperialist system. But Africans in the U.S. must make a choice. Malcolm said you cannot sit at the table and not have any food in front of you and call yourself a diner. Africans in the U.S. have been sitting at the table of U.S. citizenship and calling themselves “Americans” while our people are murdered, confined to cages in prisons, die giving birth to our children, die disproportionately before the age of five, live in poverty, are disrespected and dehumanized. A choice must be made: do you throw in with this dying system or do you align with the working class and oppressed peoples of the world.

The people of the global South are clear. They can make intelligent distinctions between friends and enemies, between their national interests and the national interests of other nations and where those interests might converge, if only temporarily. But the one thing they are also clear about is that the U.S. and Europe have nothing to offer for the new world that must be built. In fact, when Europe and the U.S. are reduced in power and influence globally, it will be one of the most important events for collective humanity in the last thousand years.