With over a billion dollars pledged so far to rebuild Notre Dame de Paris, another monument to what Western civilization has accomplished enacts a daily tragedy before the forests and villagers trying to stay alive in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Still ignored in the Euro-American press is a current Ebola epidemic, in particularly Kivu province1 the second largest outbreak of Ebola on record and the first where medical care givers are being attacked.
Previously Ebola was difficult to contain without quarantine and research into the ill person’s contacts. Currently the disease is being attacked by large scale vaccination programs relying on U.S. pharmaceuticals. But the vaccination and treatment programs are disrupted in Eastern Congo due to multiple conflicts forcing a hundred thousand people this April alone, into flight, some taking refuge across borders with other countries.
While not declared a global emergency by the UN World Health Organization, the potential is there. A report by the High Commissioner for Refugees notes its work in the RDC is hampered by lack of funding with 47 million USD allocated but only 6.2 million USD received in contributions.2
Recently Dr. Richard Valery Mouzoko Kiboung, head of the Ebola team in Butembo, a Camerounais working for WHO, was attacked and killed at a medical conference; two of his staff were wounded. The killers’ motivation is unknown. Some local groups say that Ebola doesn’t exist and its threat is used as a means of control, or money raising.3
Others say Ebola was brought to the region by white people. Marburg disease which is a kind of hemorrhagic fever much like Ebola and 88% fatal first appeared in 1967 in a laboratory in Marburg Germany, and like Ebola is considered a biological warfare agent (a note). The Ebola virus (Zaire ebolavirus) first identified in Zaire in 2010 may be a strain of the Marburg virus. The area where Ebola is proliferating has been contested with arms for several decades due to its natural resources sought by Rwandan, Euro-American and Asian markets. Buyers of desired metals are often forced to buy from the militias which control various mines or access to mines even when these are registered with the government. The DRC government army does not control the region. Regional militias represent breakaway units of the government’s army, Rwandan forces, Hutu refugee forces, Tutsi Congolese among other distinct Congolese tribes. The United Nations has peacekeeping troops committed to the region which regularly take casualties.
The recent murder of Dr. Mouzoko is one of 119 attacks so far this year on medical personnel attempting to counter the epidemic, most often under the auspices of the World Health Organization. In researching the causes of the murders press accounts are not helpful. Eleven men were recently arrested in response to the killing of Dr. Mouzoko, but no mention of their motives or allegiances is given. Logic suggests the killers of medical personnel serve the interests of the Ebola epidemic itself, causing panic flight and spread of the disease which could cause widespread death. 33 medical workers have died from contracting the disease.
There is some chance that medical personnel are being killed tactically in a biological war effort to depopulate the region of its inhabitants. But that would be an extreme tactic to accomplish more quickly what continues under corrupt policies the government and corporation boards have furthered for years. While depopulation would deprive mining enterprises of local workers it would favor technologically advanced companies using modern mining equipment. A genocide of the region’s population serves the interests of all international corporations in the area: whether they are mining with license from the government or without, they are taking what belongs to the region’s people without bettering their lives. It is a monstrous ongoing crime dating in the Congo back to the days of King Leopold.
Over a thousand verified Ebola deaths have been counted so far. Massive vaccination by a Merck produced drug are apparently effective. WHO is expecting new pharmaceuticals from Johnson & Johnson which await federal approval.4 There is no suggestion in the press that U.S. corporate vaccine products are supplied at cost.
The UN’s emergency management plan for the epidemic is operational but requires 71.5 million USD.5
Questioning a Euro-American media which has proven so faithful to the state in its propaganda against Venezuela, is not likely to provide answers. Media silence on Eastern Congo supports fears of illegal operations waged to the interests of major western corporations. Aside from pharmaceutical companies, according to Global Witness in 2009, the principle corporate buyers of minerals in the region were: “Bangkok-based THAISARCO (a subsidiary of British metals group AMC), UK-based Afrimex, and Belgium-based Trademet.6, 7
Since informative reports in 2008 and 2009 by Keith Harmon Snow8, Global Witness, and Roger Miller9, updated reports of corporate involvement are not easily available.
The current political situation in the Congo doesn’t offer much hope of the government addressing the emergency. While Kabila promised to step down and hold elections which he did after some delay, the power of the country may have remained his. An article by Kambale Musavuli of Friends of the Congo reports that former President Kabila’s party won 342 of the Parliament’s 500 seats in the election, and controls 22 of the 26 provinces, 91 of 108 senate seats with a similar percentage of governors; the Congo’s “elected” president Félix Tshisekedi, is considered installed as a Kabila compliant president while the Catholic Church Observer Mission found that Martin Fayulu won the election.10
In sum the change in Presidency isn’t likely to change the policies of the state as allied with corporate needs, which have allowed the conflicts and mining practices in the East Congo for many years.11 An ongoing genocide warning for the peoples of the Eastern Congo continues. Background.12,13
Night’s Lantern first noted a genocide warning for peoples of the Eastern Congo, among others affected by resource theft in 2004, followed by others.
“Ebola virus disease – Democratic Republic of the Congo: Disease outbreak news. Update,” WHO, May 2, 2019, World Health Organization.
“RDC : Des attaques au Nord-Kivu poussent des dizaines de milliers de personnes à fuir,” UN High commissioner for Refugees, May 3, 2019, reliefweb.
“The Doctor Killed In Friday’s Ebola Attack Was Dedicated — But Also Afraid,” Nurith Aizenman, April 23, 2019, npr: Goats and Soda.
“Congo Ebola deaths surpass 1,000 as attacks on treatment centers go on,” May 3, 2019, Health News.
“RD Congo – Sud-Kivu et Maniema : Plan Opérationnel d’Urgence (January-June 2019),” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, April 10, 2019, reliefweb.
“Global Witness uncovers foreign companies’ links to Congo violence,” July 21, 20009.
“Faced with a Gun What Can You Do? War and the Militarisation of Mining in Eastern Congo,” Global Witness 2009; “Global Witness uncovers foreign companies’ links to Congo violence,” Press release, July 21, 2009, Global Witness.
President Donald Trump is against the big, multilateral “free trade” deals (which have little to do with trade) supported by so-called “liberal elites” (who are not really liberal), like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Such deals include the Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which Trump withdrew, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which appears to be dead in the water, due in large part to popular opposition. The more moderate wing of the Democratic Party (represented by the likes of Bernie Sanders) also opposes the big, multilateral deals, but for opposite reasons. Unions, working people and small businesses see the TPP and TTIP as a way of undermining their rights. Trump, on the other hand, sees them as not going far enough to maximize US corporate profits. Trump prefers bilateral (or one-to-one) deals because, in a bilateral deal, the US is the biggest partner, whereas in an association, the US position is weakened.
But in terms of the basics—privatizing public resources, cutting back on workers’ rights, opening the environment to exploitation—there’s little difference between bi- and multilateralism when it comes to “free trade.” In poor countries, “free trade” is underpinned by the iron fist of militarism. Consider the case of Congo in the 1960s: the US, Britain and Belgium overthrew the government, backed a dictatorship and laid the foundations for an exploitative Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) that enabled US corporations to sue to the government of the impoverished people.
The US State Department’s website lists three broad aims of BITs: “protect investment abroad…[;] encourage the adoption of market-oriented domestic policies that treat private investment in an open, transparent, and non-discriminatory way; and support the development of international law standards consistent with these objectives.” BITs are only “nationalistic” in the sense that they benefit national corporations. They undermine domestic workers and investors by allowing country x to open businesses or acquire businesses in country y. “Nationalism” in this context really means US corporate dominance.
In the 1980s, the Reagan administration signed BITs with several countries, most of them extremely poor. Early test-subjects included: the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, 1984), the Republic of Congo (1990), Bangladesh (1986), Cameroon (1986), Egypt (1986), Grenada (1986), Haiti (1983), Senegal (1983) and Turkey (1985). Let’s look at the DRC, also known for a time as Zaire.
In June 1960, the Belgian Congo became independent of its European master. Patrice Lumumba came to power on a popular vote and made clear his intentions to use Congo’s resources in the interests of the Congolese: “The exploitation of the mineral riches of the Congo should be primarily for the profit of our own people and other Africans,” he told New York businesspeople. In September 1960, President Kasa-Vubu dismissed Lumumba, who had been Prime Minister for less than three months before the British, Belgian and US intelligence services conspired to murder him.
In Britain, MI6 officer and later peer, Daphne Park, was asked if MI6 was involved in Lumumba’s assassination. “I organized it,” said Park. The BBC acknowledges: “Lumumba made a fateful step − he turned to the Soviet Union for help [economic and military]. This set off panic in London and Washington.” Lumumba and his supporters, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okita, were tortured and executed by forces from Belgium and Congo’s Katanga region, before being dissolved in acid.
From the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission we learn that British intelligence plotted Operation Celeste, the murder of UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld, who died in a plane crash. Hammarskjöld refused to withdraw UN troops from Congo, fearing further massacres between the warring factions. Britain’s MI5 and the Special Operations Executive were involved in the plot, which was hatched in apartheid South Africa via the South African Institute for Maritime Research. The CIA was also involved. Letters exchanged between agencies state: “Dag is becoming troublesome… and should be removed… I want his removal to be handled more efficiently than was Patrice.” The plan was to explode Hammarskjöld’s plane with a bomb allegedly supplied by Union Minière, a Belgian mining company with private interests in the copper-rich Katanga region. In 1965, Lumumba’s pro-US Chief of Staff for the Congolese National Army, Mobutu Sese Seko, came to power. Mobuto quickly garnered an international reputation for brutality, banning political parties and crushing secessionist movements.
By 1984, when the US signed its first-ever BIT with the country, Congo was importing 60 per cent of its food, despite having plenty of arable land; half of all Congolese children died before the age of five; and wages were 10 per cent of what they had been prior to independence. The New York Times reported at the time: “Zaire has one of Africa’s largest markets and a liberal investment code.” The BIT stated that the objective was “to provide US investors with significant investment guarantees and assurances as a way of inducing additional foreign investment.” Another aim was “to encourage, and facilitate participation by private enterprise to the maximum extent practicable.” It also noted: “Each of these models was developed after lengthy and extensive consultations within the US Government and with the private sector.”
As well as the generic misery and mass deaths that come with propping up a dictator, one of the other anti-democratic facets of the BIT is the fact that American companies could now sue the Congolese government for alleged inhibitions of profit. In 1993, the firm American Manufacturing Trading sued Zaire in a case “based on the provisions of a [BIT].” The law suit chides Mobutu’s failure to prevent looting of foreign-owned corporations. It says that this is the fault of the Congolese people (“the government”), who must compensate companies like American Manufacturing Trading.
This model of using the iron fist of militarism to impose the “velvet glove” of so-called free trade is an in old one that generalizes around the world.
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 Renovatorsdu jourElliot 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 WashingtonBabylon 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’.
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.
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.
[Part 1 of this two-part series addresses the need for Cuba’s participation in conflicts in Zaire, the Congo and Guinea-Bissau during the 1960s to remain concealed for over three decades. It covers the background to the struggles, what Cubans found in Africa, the role of race relations in Cuba’s campaigns, and the recruitment of doctors. Part 2 will explore the working conditions of revolutionary military doctors, physical and emotional consequences for participating physicians, interactions with African civilians, Cuba’s first large medical scholarship program, the first mass vaccination effort in Africa, and how Cuba’s military and medical efforts affected Africa.]
Cuba’s deployment of military doctors to Africa in the 1960s was secret, known only at the highest level of government. Accounts of these hidden efforts were not published until the beginning of the 21st century.
Multiple forces during that decade pulled Cuba toward struggles in sub-Saharan Africa. First was the mushrooming of popular movements across the globe. The US civil rights movement was joined by millions opposing the war on Viet Nam. Zaire won independence from Belgium in June 1960 and the popular Patrice Lumumba became its first prime minister. After leading the National Liberation Front to victory over French domination in 1962, Ahmed Ben Bella was elected as the first president of Algeria. In August, 1966 Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to thwart the growth of capitalism in China. May 1968 saw a huge left upsurge in France going beyond the Communist Party.
A second force pushing Cuba’s foreign policy came from the US. Its continuous violence gave a clear message that the best defense for the island would be an international offense. Two decades earlier, the US had experimented with nuclear extermination in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During the previous decade, the US had slaughtered roughly 20% of the population of North Korea and the CIA engineered the overthrow of the progressive Jacobo Arbenz government in Guatemala. Fresh on the mind of Cubans was the connivance of John and Bobby Kennedy in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the 1962 missile crisis. The US began its series of efforts to kill Fidel Castro about the same time the CIA contemplated how to poison Lumumba.1 Asserting dominion over Latin America, Lyndon Johnson invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965.
In the meantime, the Soviet Union was not acting like a reliable ally. The USSR had not sent troops to fight in Korea and did not do so in Viet Nam, even after the massive US build-up following the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident. Nikita Khrushchev had settled the missile crisis without bothering to consult Fidel. His successor, Leonid Brezhnev, was clear that Cuba should accept the subordinate status of sugar producer for the Soviet bloc.
Furthermore, Latin American Communist Parties (CPs) did not take kindly to Cuba’s “foco theory” of revolution. Those CPs centered on urban working class movements while the Cuban leadership looked to a dedicated vanguard in the countryside, garnering support through armed struggle. As Che Guevara wrote:
A small group of men who are determined, supported by the people, and not afraid of death…can overcome a regular army. This was the lesson of the Cuban revolution.2
Unlike countries in Latin America, those in Africa did not have established Communist Parties hostile to guerrilla efforts.3 With at least a third of Cubans being of African heritage, Cuban leaders felt beckoned from across the Atlantic.
Hope Meets Reality in Africa
Despite efforts by the US to isolate Cuba, by 1964 it had embassies in the African countries of Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Morocco and Tanzania. Lumumba had been murdered in January 1961 by allies of Moise Tshombe. The Simbas (lions), admirers of Lumumba, began a guerrilla struggle, routed government forces in 1964, and seemed to have strong revolutionary potential.4
In December 1964 Che began a three month trek to Algeria, Ghana, the Congo, Guinea, Mali, Benin, Tanzania, and Egypt. Planning to lead an African initiative himself, Che went to develop strategies and agreements with liberation movements. During his January 1965 meeting with leaders in Tanzania, Che emphasized the Simba upsurge and proposed Zaire as the location for centralized training. They disagreed with him, each wanting training camps in their own country.5
The more Che came to know the heads of several organizations, the more skeptical he became. He observed that they “live comfortably in hotels and have turned rebellion into a profession, at time lucrative…”6 Once on the battlefield, his doubts were confirmed:
Che had been told that he would find several thousand well-armed Simbas, eager to fight. There were, in fact, some 1000 to 1500 widely dispersed rebels, who had no idea of how to maintain their modern weapons … they lacked a unified command.
The scouting teams … brought back grim reports from the fronts: idle rebels who … did not know how to use their firearms and showed no inclination to attack or to prepare to defend themselves. Everywhere chaos, disorganization, and lack of discipline.7
Cuban leaders, soldiers and doctors wrote of their frustration in Zaire. In November 1965, after a governmental coup, a Simba leader notified Che that they wanted to end the war. Che returned to Cuba with part of the unit he commanded, while others went to different African locations.8
The neighboring Congo was headed by Alphonse Massamba-Débat, whose socialist views were similar to those of the Chinese Communist Party.9 In August 1965, Fidel dispatched a unit to the Congo which joined the 50 or so Cubans already there. The group was headed by Jorge Risquet, who was “the descendant of an African slave, her white master, a Chinese indentured servant, and a Spanish immigrant.”10
In the Congo the Cubans discovered that the rhetoric of the country’s leaders did not match their politics, which were based on opportunism and personal feuds. Since Fidel had charged Risquet with defending the Congo, when an attempted coup broke out on June 27, 1966, the Cubans came to the defense of the government. Wanting to resolve the dispute diplomatically rather than with force, Risquet appointed a doctor to lead the maneuvers. The rebels backed down when confronted by the determination of the smaller number of Cubans. On July 6, the revolt ended with only one Congolese death.11
It soon appeared to the Cubans that their major task in the Congo was protecting one faction from another. Risquet persuaded Havana that the best thing for them to do was to leave, which they soon did. Two years later, a successful coup overthrew Massamba-Débat’s government.12
The uprising against the Portuguese in Guinea-Bissau stood in sharp contrast. Even US intelligence reports described it as having “Africa’s most successful liberation movement.”13 During his 1965 journey through Africa, Che spoke with Amílcar Cabral, who was head of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC, for its acronym in Portuguese).14
Fidel recognized the importance of the Non-Aligned Movement, which coalesced third world countries breaking from the yoke of imperialism. He persuaded those organizing the Tricontinental Congress to meet in Havana on January 3, 1966 and invited Latin American groups dedicated to armed struggle. It was there that Fidel and Amílcar Cabral first met and spoke extensively. Fidel promised Cabral doctors, military instructors, and mechanics.15 Both made impressive speeches to the delegates and Fidel emerged as a champion of revolutionary movements.
For a critical year, Victor Dreke headed Cuba’s military undertaking in Guinea-Bissau. Dreke was a black Commander who received extremely high praise from Che for his efforts in Zaire. Dreke was impressed by the discipline of the PAIGC. When he returned to Cuba in late 1968, Cabral’s forces had strengthened their position. The Portuguese lost ground even while increasing their troops from 20,000 to 25,000.16
Cuba never had more than 60 soldiers in Guinea-Bissau. This was one way Cabral kept the PAIGC in command, the other being the restriction of foreign military aid only to Cubans. Yet, the Cubans’ roles as military advisers and teachers proved invaluable. When Castro went to Africa in 1972, the PAIGC was the only force on the continent successfully fighting against a white regime.17
Cuba also played minor roles in Angola, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and possibly other countries.18 However, this article concentrates on Zaire, the Congo, and Guinea-Bissau, which were, by far, its major arenas.19 Much of the information regarding experiences of Cuban physicians in Africa is from extensive interviews with military doctors deployed in the three countries, as well as Tanzania.
White Doctors, Black Soldiers
Cuban doctors going to Africa were almost all white while its troops were almost all black. It was very rare for black people to become doctors before the revolution. But they rose quickly to high positions in the revolutionary military. Race was critical in every aspect of the African conflicts.
The US had strong advantages over Cuba in its influence of Africa: it could offer vastly more economic aid and wield the political power of its European allies, accrued by their history of conquest and ongoing domination. But throughout the 1960s, the US was increasingly tied up in Viet Nam and its ongoing racism repulsed people around the globe.
Racism in the white regimes of Africa was blatant and horrific. The London Observer reported that mercenaries paid to put down the Simba rebellion “not only shoot and hang prisoners after torturing them, but use them for target practice and gamble over the number of shots to kill them.” One mercenary wrote in his memoirs of the “the White Giants—‘tall, vigorous Boers from South Africa; long-legged, slim and muscular Englishmen from Rhodesia’—who would restore, in Zaire, the white man to his proper place.”20
African resistance leaders realized that they could use the inability of racists to tell one group of black people from another to their advantage. The revolutionaries in Zaire requested that the Cubans sent to their aid be black so they could pass undetected by US and Europe spies. Cabral asked Cuban officials to send technicians who were “black or dark mulattoes so that they would blend in with his people.” This fell into place with the PAIGC’s policy of denying that they involved any foreigners.21
When Fidel asked Dreke to select troops who would serve with Che in Zaire, he specified that he had to “choose a platoon of men who have shown their mettle, who are all volunteers and who are dark-skinned blacks.” Both Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras and Dr. Julián Álvarez Blanco did not know that Africa was their destination until they saw that almost all the combatants in training camps were black.22
This meant very different experiences for those traveling by ship to Africa. Dr. Álvarez remembers Pavlovian conditioning when traveling aboard the Soviet ship Félix Dzerzhinsky:
Since the doctors were all white, there were no problems with anyone seeing us. But the troops were all black, and, in order to make sure that none of the passengers or US spy planes would guess the purpose of the mission, they had to stay in the lower deck of the ship, which was hot and had poor ventilation. Occasionally, they could come out for brief times at night.
Since the Russian food was very strong with disagreeable odors, the comrades who had to stay below without fresh air would get nauseated and vomit when they smelled it. The captain had a gong that he hit in front of a microphone in order to announce that it was time to eat. Some of the comrades started vomiting when they heard the gong.
At that point, I told Risquet that he had to tell the ship’s captain to stop banging the gong. He replied that it was me, as a doctor, who had to have the conversation with the captain. When I did so, that robust Russian failed to understand the situation and argued that it was a tradition that he could not violate.23
Though the white doctors could lean over the side of the ship to vomit, it must have been profoundly unpleasant for black troops confined to the lower deck. In response, and to the outrage of the Russian captain, the Cubans stole the gong and heaved it into the Atlantic.24
How successful was the strategy of recruiting black troops? It significantly slowed the ability of Western powers to detect Cuban involvement. A British adviser in Zaire observed US agents looked “for whites and their eyes … passed over Cuban blacks or mulattoes.” The same was true for the Congo, where bewildered officials from the US, France, West Germany and England “…were unable to ascertain how many Cubans were in the Congo.” A Belgian ambassador could not tell if there were 100 or 800 Cubans since “they are difficult to pick out because they are all colored.”25 It was likely a serious affront to the dignity of white supremacists to see black Cubans so successfully bamboozling them.
Western observers could only be successfully confused about Cuban involvement if Cuba’s own recruits were in the dark concerning their destination. Rodolfo Puente was the only one of nine physicians interviewed by Hedelberto López who was openly told where he was going (the Congo).26 Others were led to believe that they were going to Algeria, Viet Nam, or “other lands,” or that they should tell their families that they would be studying in the Soviet Union.27
The physicians were accustomed to disruption in their careers. Of the 9 interviewed by López Blanch, 2 had to delay when they began medical school because Batista had closed it at the end of 1956. The other seven started school before the 1956 closing but had to halt their studies and resume them after the 1959 revolution.
Waiting to discover exactly where they would be serving was only one indication of the vital importance of their mission. Every one of the nine physicians interviewed in Historias Secretas met some combination of Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro, Che Guevara, MINSAP (the Cuban Health Department) head José Ramón Machado, Commander Jorge Risquet, Commander Victor Dreke, and Amílcar Cabral either before, during, and/or after their trip to Africa.
Preparing to leave for Zaire, Rafaél Zerquera recalled that “April 10, 1965 was the happiest day of my life when I was interviewed by Fidel Castro.”28 Shortly after arriving in Zaire, Diego Lagomasino “gave Che a suitcase with asthma medicine and bullets for a M-1 gun. Meeting someone like Che had a big impact on [him].”29 Héctor Vera spoke with Fidel upon returning from Zaire: “Fidel asked about sicknesses, malaria, how we were able to diagnose, and what treatments we used. After chatting, he told us that we could not divulge anything about the mission.”30
Before departing for the Congo, Rodrigo Álvarez described having breakfast with Fidel.
[He] spoke to us of Africa in general without specifying the country. He asked if we had pistols, and I said, yes, a P-38. He told his assistant to find a better weapon and he brought a Stich of 20 shots. Fidel saw that I wasn’t wearing a watch and told me that it was important for a doctor going to war to have one. He took off one of the two watches he was wearing, a Longines, and gave it to me.”31
When Diego Lagomasino did his post graduate Rural Medical Service (RMS) in Santo Tomás, he worked alone and “had to be the doctor, nurse, distribute medications, and look for supplies.”32 This multi-tasking helped prepare him for Africa. Rafaél Zerquera’s RMS was used as a screening to see if he was suitable for Zaire. He explained that …
When I graduated, a document circulated asking where we would like to do our RMS and I wrote ‘wherever the revolution needs me.’ José Ramón Machado of MINSAP, called me to his office and said that there was a conflict zone in the Sierra Maestra, where a group had burned the medical post and killed the doctor. He asked me if I was still disposed to going.33
Zerquera replied that he would go where Machado assigned him. After a short stint in the Sierra Maestra, Machado called him back to let him know that an important but highly risky international mission awaited him and Zerquera was soon on his way to Zaire.
Once they learned of their destinations, the doctors still had little idea of what was in store for them. Luís Peraza recalled that all he “knew about Africa was the Tarzan movies.” Impressions of their experiences differed sharply according to country, with Zaire being the gloomiest. As the curtain was drawing to a close in Zaire, Che called a meeting of Communist Party members and asked who still thought that they could win. Only 2 military leaders and 2 doctors raised their hands and Che concluded that they might have been showing him personal support. Che then asked who would be willing to fight until death and all the hands went up.34
Rafaél Zerquera recollected that the Simbas did not seem interested in preparing for a guerrilla struggle. “It was an experience but it wasn’t pleasant. If it had been a sacrifice with a reward, I would have felt satisfied. But it was not rewarding.”35
Justo Piñero had different feelings about the Congo.
The population identified with us. We bought things from them. We went to the same places and knew the local people from seeing them on the street.36
By far, the most positive memories were of Guinea-Bissau. Domingo Díaz knew “many brave Guinean officers and soldiers who would have given their lives to prevent a Cuban from falling into the hands of the enemy.”37 Dr. Milton Hechevarría emphasized that when he got back to Cuba, he “couldn’t forget Guinea-Bissau.”38
Whatever country they went to, Cuban doctors faced a combination of stressful conditions that they were unlikely to have experienced at home: incredibly rough terrain, enemy fire, and unpleasant and dangerous animals. Diego Lagomasino described arriving in Zaire: “We had to go to the base camp that was on the top of a high ridge. We left at 6 in the morning and at 7 in the evening we were still climbing. Never in my life had I seen a ridge that tall. I thought I was going to die.”39
Looking back on the same walk, Héctor Vera felt like he could not bear the weight of his pistol, ammunition, medical supplies and personal belongings in his knapsack. He was saved by a Zairean boy who motioned that he would carry it for him.40
In Guinea-Bissau, Domingo Díaz went on strenuous walks for 7 or 8 days, walks with deep holes that could not be seen after it rained. “In this region, we didn’t measure time with a watch,” Díaz recounted. Instead, time was measured “with distance, which is to say one day’s walk, half a day walk.” He concluded that the terrain was so rough that “in Cuba there was no possibility of training for this type of event.”41
The land intensified military dangers. To avoid detection by the enemy, Héctor Vera’s group crossed Lake Tanganika with several Simbas who began lighting matches to see where they were going. The Cubans in the boat told them not to because there was a gasoline motor that could catch on fire. However, they replied that there was no other way to see and continued with the matches. Upon arriving in Zaire, they had not gone 50 meters before they had to fall to the ground as enemy planes flew overhead.42
In Guinea-Bissau, the Portuguese attacked Amado Alfonso Delgado’s group with napalm while 15 helicopters landed to hunt them. They survived by running from 7 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon.43
The doctors encountered insects, reptiles and other creatures they had never seen before. In an emergency military undertaking in the Congo, Rodrigo Álvarez saw anthills so tall that they prevented their plane from landing.44 Fleeing from the Portuguese in Guinea-Bissau, Amado Alfonso Delgado bumped into an enormous beehive.
I had over 300 stings. Only 10 are dangerous and can send a person into shock. But I was under so much tension that my body was producing steroids, which is exactly the treatment used. None of the stings became inflamed and the other six with me had the same luck.”45
While none of Cuba’s snakes are poisonous, many are in the Congo, where Julián Álvarez thought he ran across them everywhere.46
Waters in Guinea-Bissau were often inhospitable. Domingo Díaz described walking through a lake for hours with water up to their chests. “It was full of leeches and they advised me to tie my pants tight and walk with my arms up so they could not get in. When we got out we were attacked by mosquitoes that bit through my coat.” Another day, they found that:
The Corubal and Gaba Rivers met where they emptied into the sea. It was like an arm of the sea where there were sharks, hippopotamuses, and crocodiles. As we crossed in canoes made from tree trunks they told me to be careful because a man had recently fallen in and never reappeared.47
• A version of this article first appeared in Monthly Review. The author thanks Rebecca Fitz for interview translation and John Kirk, Linda M. Whiteford and Steve Brouwer for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of the article.
Piero Gleijeses, Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 61.
Peter G. Bourne, Fidel: A Biography of Fidel Castro (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1986), 255.
Hedelberto López Blanch, Historias Secretas de Médicos Cubanos (Centro Cultural de la Torriente Brau: La Habana, Cuba, 2005), 113,114.
Gleijeses, (2002), 187.
Ibid, 191, 208.
Ibid, 183-184, Author’s interview with Dr. Juan Antonio Sánchez, Havana, Cuba, February 9, 2016.
Two Congos had revolutionary movements. The “Belgian Congo” was sometimes referred to as Congo Leopoldville from the name of its capital city. Upon independence in 1960, it took the name Kinshasa, became Zaire in 1971 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997. The current article refers to it as Zaire. The “French Congo” was sometimes referred to as Congo Brazzaville from the name of its capital, or the Congo. After independence in 1960 it became the Republic of the Congo, the People’s Republic of the Congo in 1969 and, after 1991 the Republic of the Congo again. The current article refers to it as the Congo.
Gleijeses, (2002), 71, 73.
Ibid, 89, 188, 208.
López, Historias Secretas, 67, 89.
Gleijeses, (2002), 136, 166.
Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Rodolfo Puente Ferro, Historias Secretas, 101.
Gleijeses, (2002); 199, Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, Historias Secretas, 115.
Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, Historias Secretas, 25.
Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Diego Lagomasino Comesaña, Historias Secretas, 60.
Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, Historias Secretas, 53.
Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, Historias Secretas, 75.
López’ interview with Dr. Diego Lagomasino Comesaña, 56-57.
López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, 22-23.
Gleijeses, (2002), 154, 200.
López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, 36-37.
Author’s interview with Dr. Justo Piñero Fernández, Havana, Cuba, February 9, 2016.
López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 132.
Gleijeses, (2002), 213.
López’ interview with Dr. Diego Lagomasino Comesaña, 59-60.
López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, 43.
López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 120.
López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, 42.
Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 144-6.
López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, 80.
Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 144.
Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Julián Álvarez Blanco, Historias Secretas, 90.
López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 140.
I would like to tell you something about human depravity and illustrate just how widespread it is among those we often regard as ‘responsible’. I am going to use the Democratic Republic of the Congo as my example.
As I illustrate and explain what has happened to the Congo and its people during the past 500 years, I invite you to consider my essential point: Human depravity has no limit unless people like you (hopefully) and me take some responsibility for ending it. Depravity, barbarity and violent exploitation will not end otherwise because major international organizations (such as the UN), national governments and corporations all benefit from it and are almost invariably led by individuals too cowardly to act on the truth.
Prior to 1482, the area of central Africa now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was part of the Kingdom of the Kongo. It was populated by some of the greatest civilizations in human history.
However, in that fateful year of 1482, the mouth of the Congo River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean, became known to Europeans when the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao claimed he ‘discovered’ it. By the 1530s, more than five thousand slaves a year (many from inland regions of the Kongo) were being transported to distant lands, mostly in the Americas. Hence, as documented by Adam Hochschild in King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, the Congo was first exploited by Europeans during the Atlantic slave trade.
Despite the horrific depredations of the militarized slave trade and all of its ancillary activities, including Christian priests spreading ‘Christianity’ while raping their captive slave girls, the Kingdoms of the Kongo were able to defend and maintain themselves to a large degree for another 400 years by virtue of their long-standing systems of effective governance. As noted by Chancellor Williams’ in his epic study The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. the Kingdoms of the Congo prior to 1885 – including Kuba under Shyaam the Great and the Matamba Kingdom under Ngola Kambolo – were a cradle of culture, democracy and exceptional achievement with none more effective than the remarkable Queen (of Ndongo and Matamba), warrior and diplomat Nzinga in the 17th century.
But the ruthless military onslaught of the Europeans never abated. In fact, it continually expanded with ever-greater military firepower applied to the task of conquering Africa. In 1884 European powers met in Germany to finally divide ‘this magnificent African cake’, precipitating what is sometimes called ‘the scramble for Africa’ but is more accurately described as ‘the scramble to finally control and exploit Africa and Africans completely’.
One outcome of the Berlin Conference was that the great perpetrator of genocide – King Leopold II of Belgium – with the active and critical support of the United States, seized violent control of a vast swathe of central Africa in the Congo Basin and turned it into a Belgian colony. In Leopold’s rapacious pursuit of rubber, gold, diamonds, mahogany and ivory, 10 million African men, women and children had been slaughtered and many Africans mutilated (by limb amputation, for example) by the time he died in 1909. His brutality and savagery have been documented by Adam Hochschild in the book King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa which reveals the magnitude of human suffering that this one man, unopposed in any significant way by his fellow Belgians or anyone else, was responsible for inflicting on Africa.
Now if you were hoping that the situation in the Congo improved with the death of the monster Leopold, your hope is in vain.
The shocking reality is that the unmitigated horror inflicted on the Congolese people has barely improved since Leopold’s time. The Congo remained under Belgian control during World War I during which more than 300,000 Congolese were forced to fight against other Africans from the neighboring German colony of Ruanda-Urundi. During World War II when Nazi Germany captured Belgium, the Congo financed the Belgian government in exile.
Throughout these decades, the Belgian government forced millions of Congolese into mines and fields using a system of ‘mandatory cultivation’ that forced people to grow cash crops for export, even as they starved on their own land.
It was also during the colonial period that the United States acquired a strategic stake in the enormous natural wealth of the Congo without, of course, any benefit to the Congolese people. This included its use of uranium from a Congolese mine (subsequently closed in 1960) to manufacture the first nuclear weapons: those used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Independence then Dictatorship
By 1960, the Congolese people had risen up to overthrow nearly a century of slavery and Belgian rule. Patrice Lumumba became the first Prime Minister of the new nation and he quickly set about breaking the yoke of Belgian influence and allied the Congo with Russia at the height of the Cold War.
But the victory of the Congolese people over their European and US overlords was shortlived: Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in a United States-sponsored coup in 1961 with the US and other western imperial powers (and a compliant United Nations) repeating a long-standing and ongoing historical pattern of preventing an incredibly wealthy country from determining its own future and using its resources for the benefit of its own people.
So, following a well-worn modus operandi, an agent in the form of (Army Chief of Staff, Colonel) Mobutu Sese Seko was used to overthrow Lumumba’s government. Lumumba himself was captured and tortured for three weeks before being assassinated by firing squad. The new dictator Mobutu, compliant to western interests, then waged all-out war in the country, publicly executing members of the pro-Lumumba revolution in spectacles witnessed by tens of thousands of people. By 1970 nearly all potential threats to his authority had been smashed.
Mobutu would rape the Congo (renamed Zaire for some time) with the blessing of the west – robbing the nation of around $2billion – from 1965 to 1997. During this period, the Congo got more than $1.5 billion in US economic and military aid in return for which US multinational corporations increased their share of the Congo’s abundant minerals. Washington justified its hold on the Congo with the pretext of anti-Communism but its real interests were strategic and economic.
Eventually, however, Mobutu’s increasingly hostile rhetoric toward his white overlords caused the west to seek another proxy. So, ostensibly in retaliation against Hutu rebels from the Rwandan genocide of 1994 – who fled into eastern Congo after Paul Kagame’s (Tutsi) Rwanda Patriotic Army invaded Rwanda from Uganda to end the genocide – in October 1996 Rwanda’s now-dictator Kagame, ‘who was trained in intelligence at Fort Leavenworth in the United States, invaded the Congo with the help of the Clinton Administration and Uganda. By May 1997 the invading forces had removed Mobutu and installed the new (more compliant) choice for dictator, Laurent Kabila.
Relations between Kabila and Kagame quickly soured, however, and Kabila expelled the Rwandans and Ugandans from the Congo in July 1998. However, the Rwandans and Ugandans reinvaded in August establishing an occupation force in eastern Congo. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia sent their armies to support Kabila and Burundi joined the Rwandans and Ugandans. Thus began ‘Africa’s First World War‘ involving seven armies and lasting until 2003. It eventually killed six million people – most of them civilians – and further devastated a country crushed by more than a century of Western domination, with Rwanda and Uganda establishing themselves as conduits for illegally taking strategic minerals out of the Congo.
During the periods under Mobutu and Kabila, the Congo became the concentration camp capital of the world and the rape capital as well. ‘No woman in the path of the violence was spared. 7 year olds were raped by government troops in public. Pregnant women were disemboweled. Genital mutilation was commonplace, as was forced incest and cannibalism. The crimes were never punished, and never will be.’
Laurent Kabila maintained the status quo until he was killed by his bodyguard in 2001. Since then, his son and the current dictator Joseph Kabila has held power in violation of the Constitution. ‘He has murdered protesters and opposition party members, and has continued to obey the will of the west while his people endure unspeakable hells.’
Corporate and State Exploitation
While countries such as Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Switzerland and the UK are heavily involved one way or another (with other countries, such as Australia, somewhat less so), US corporations make a vast range of hitech products including microchips, cell phones and semiconductors using conflict minerals taken from the Congo . This makes companies like Intel, Apple, HP, and IBM culpable for funding the militias that control the mines.
But many companies are benefitting. For example,a 2002 report by the United Nations listed a ‘sample’ of 34 companies based in Europe and Asia that are importing minerals from the Congo via, in this case, Rwanda. The UN Report commented: ‘Illegal exploitation of the mineral and forest resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is taking place at an alarming rate. Two phases can be distinguished: mass-scale looting and the systematic and systemic exploitation of resources’. The mass-scale looting occurred during the initial phase of the invasion of the Congo by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi when stockpiles of minerals, coffee, wood, livestock and money in the conquered territory were either taken to the invading countries or exported to international markets by their military forces or nationals. The subsequent systematic and systemic exploitation required planning and organization involving key military commanders, businessmen and government structures; it was clearly illegal.
For some insight into other issues making exploitation of the Congo possible but which are usually paid less attention – such as the roles of mercenaries, weapons dealers, US military training of particular rebel groups and the secret airline flights among key locations in the smuggling operations of conflict minerals – see the research of Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski.
Has there been any official attempt to rein in this corporate exploitation?
A little. For example, the Obama-era US Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act of 2010 shone a spotlight on supply chains, pressuring companies to determine the origin of minerals used in their products and invest in removing conflict minerals from their supply chain. This resulted in some US corporations, conscious of the public relations implications of being linked to murderous warlords and child labor, complying with the Act. So, a small step in the right direction it seemed.
In 2011, given that legally-binding human rights provisions, if applied, should have offered adequate protections already, the United Nations rather powerlessly formulated the non-binding ‘Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights‘.
And in 2015, the European Union also made a half-hearted attempt when it decided that smelters and refiners based in the 28-nation bloc be asked to certify that their imports were conflict-free on a voluntary basis!
Despite its corrupt exploitation for more than 500 years, the Congo still has vast natural resources (including rainforests) and mineral wealth. Its untapped deposits of minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of $US24 trillion. Yes, that’s right: $US24trillion. With a host of rare strategic minerals – including cobalt, coltan, gold and diamonds – as well as copper, zinc, tin and tungsten critical to the manufacture of hi-tech electronic products ranging from aircraft and vehicles to computers and mobile phones, violent and morally destitute western governments and corporations are not about to let the Congo decide its own future and devote its resources to the people of this African country. This, of course, despite the international community paying lip service to a plethora of ‘human rights’ treaties.
Hence, violent conflict, including ongoing war, over the exploitation of these resources, including the smuggling of ‘conflict minerals’ – such as gold, coltan and cassiterite (the latter two ores of tantalum and tin, respectively), and diamonds – will ensure that the people of the Congo continue to be denied what many of those in western countries take for granted: the right to life benefiting from the exploitation of ‘their’ natural resources.
In essence then, since 1885 European and US governments, together with their corporations and African collaborators, have inflicted phenomenal ongoing atrocities on the peoples of the Congo as they exploit the vast resources of the country for the benefit of non-Congolese people.
But, you might wonder, European colonizers inflicted phenomenal violence on the indigenous peoples in all of their colonies – whether in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean or Oceania – so is their legacy in the Congo any worse?
Well, according to the The Pan-African Alliance, just since colonization in 1885, at least 25 million Congolese men, women and children have been slaughtered by white slave traders, missionaries, colonists, corporations and governments (both the governments of foreign-installed Congolese dictators and imperial powers). ‘Yet barely a mention is made of the holocaust that rages in the heart of Africa.’ Why? Because the economy of the entire world rests on the back of the Congo.
So what is happening now?
In a sentence: The latest manifestation of the violence and exploitation that has been happening since 1482 when that Portuguese explorer ‘discovered’ the mouth of the Congo River. The latest generation of European and American genocidal exploiters, and their latter-day cronies, is busy stealing what they can from the Congo. Of course, as illustrated above, having installed the ruthless dictator of their choosing to ensure that foreign interests are protected, the weapon of choice is the corporation and non-existent legal or other effective controls in the era of ‘free trade’.
The provinces of North and South Kivu in the eastern Congo are filled with mines of cassiterite, wolframite, coltan and gold. Much mining is done by locals eking out a living using Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM); that is, mining by hand, sometimes with rudimentary tools. Some of these miners sell their product via local agents to Congolese military commanders who smuggle it out of the country, usually via Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi, and use the proceeds to enrich themselves.
Another report on South Kivu by Global Witness in 2016 documented evidence of the corrupt links between government authorities, foreign corporations (in this case, Kun Hou Mining of China) and the military, which results in the gold dredged from the Ulindi River in South Kivu being illegally smuggled out of the country, with much of it ending up with Alfa Gold Corp in Dubai. The unconcealed nature of this corruption and the obvious lack of enforcement of weak Congolese law is a powerful disincentive for corporations to engage in ‘due diligence’ when conducting their own mining operations in the Congo.
In contrast, in the south of the Congo in the former province of Katanga, Amnesty International and Afrewatch researchers tracked sacks of cobalt ore that had been mined by artisanal miners in Kolwezi to the local market where the mineral ore is sold. From this point, the material was smelted by one of the large companies in Kolwezi, such as Congo Dongfang Mining International SARL (CDM), which is a smelter and fully-owned subsidiary of Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company Ltd (Huayou Cobalt) in China, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cobalt products. Once smelted, the material is typically exported from the Congo to China via a port in South Africa.
In its 2009 report ‘“Faced with a gun, what can you do?” War and the Militarisation of Mining in Eastern Congo’ examining the link between foreign corporate activity in the Congo and the military violence, Global Witness raised questions about the involvement of nearly 240 companies spanning the mineral, metal and technology industries. It specifically identified four main European companies as open buyers in this illegal trade: Thailand Smelting and Refining Corp. (owned by British Amalgamated Metal Corp.), British Afrimex, Belgian Trademet and Traxys. It also questioned the role of other companies further down the manufacturing chain, including prominent electronics companies Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, Dell and Motorola (a list to which Microsoft and Samsung should have been added as well). Even though they may be acting ‘legally’, Global Witness criticized their lack of due diligence and transparency standards at every level of their supply chain.
Needless to say, despite beautifully worded ‘corporate responsibility statements’ by whatever name, the record rarely goes even remotely close to resembling the rhetoric. Take Glencore’s lovely statement on ‘safety’ in the Congo: ‘Ask Glencore: Democratic Republic of the Congo’. Unfortunately, this didn’t prevent the 2016 accident at a Congolese mine that one newspaper reported in the following terms: ‘Glencore’s efforts to reduce fatalities among its staff have suffered a setback with the announcement that the death toll from an accident at a Congolese mine has risen to seven.’
Or consider the Belgian Forrest Group International’s wonderful ‘Community Services’ program, supposedly developing projects ‘in the areas of education, health, early childhood care, culture, sport, infrastructure and the environment. The Forrest Group has been investing on the African continent since 1922. Its longevity is the fruit of a vision of the role a company should have, namely the duty to be a positive player in the society in which it operates. The investments of the Group share a common core of values which include, as a priority, objectives of stability and long-term prospects.’
Regrettably, the Forrest Group website and public relations documents make no mention of the company’s illegal demolition, without notice, of hundreds of homes of people who lived in the long-standing village of Kawama, inconveniently close to the Forrest Group’s Luiswishi Mine, on 24 and 25 November 2009. People were left homeless and many lost their livelihoods as a direct consequence. Of course, the demolitions constitute forced evictions, which are illegal under international human rights law.
Fortunately, given the obvious oversight of the Forrest Group in failing to mention it, the demolitions have been thoroughly documented by Amnesty International in its report ‘Bulldozed – How a Mining Company Buried the Truth about Forced Evictions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’ and the satellite photographs acquired by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science have been published as well.
Needless to say, it is difficult for Congolese villagers to feel they have any ‘stability and long-term prospects’, as the Forrest Group’s ‘Community Services’ statement puts it, when their homes and livelihoods have been destroyed. Are company chairman George A. Forrest and its CEO Malta David Forrest and their family delusional? Or just so familiar with being violently ruthless in their exploitation of the Congo and its people, that it doesn’t even occur to them that there might be less violent ways of resolving any local conflicts?
Tragically, of course, fatal industrial accidents and housing demolition are only two of the many abuses inflicted on mining labourers, including (illegal) child labourers, and families in the Congo where workers are not even provided with the most basic ‘safety equipment’ – work clothes, helmets, gloves, boots and face masks – let alone a safe working environment (including guidance on the safe handling of toxic substances) or a fair wage, reasonable working hours, holidays, sick leave or superannuation.
Even where laws exist, such as the Congo’s Child Protection Code (2009) which provides for ‘free and compulsory primary education for all children’, laws are often simply ignored (without legal consequence). Although, it should also be noted, in the Congo there is no such thing as ‘free education’ despite the law. Consequently, plenty of children do not attend school and work full time, others attend school but work out of school hours. There is no effective system to remove children from child labour (which is well documented). Even for adults, there is no effective labour inspection system. Most artisanal mining takes places in unauthorized mining areas where the government is doing next to nothing to regulate the safety and labour conditions in which the miners work.
In addition, as noted above, given its need for minerals to manufacture the hi-tech products it makes, including those for western corporations, China is deeply engaged in mining strategic minerals in the Congo too.
Based on the Chinese notion of ‘respect’ – which includes the ‘principle’ of noninterference in each other’s internal affairs – the Chinese dictatorship is content to ignore the dictatorship of the Congo and its many corrupt and violent practices, even if its investment often has more beneficial outcomes for ordinary Congolese than does western ‘investment’. Moreover, China is not going to disrupt and destabilize the Congo in the way that the United States and European countries have done for so long.
Moreover, Chinese involvement is not limited to its direct engagement in mining such as gold dredging of the Ulindi River. A vital source of the mineral cobalt is that which is mined by artisanal miners. As part of a recent detailed investigation, Amnesty International had researchers follow cobalt mined by artisanal miners from where it was mined to a market at Musompo, where minerals are traded. The report summarised what happens:
Independent traders at Musompo – most of them Chinese – buy the ore, regardless of where it has come from or how it has been mined. In turn, these traders sell the ore on to larger companies in the DRC which process and export it. One of the largest companies at the centre of this trade is Congo Dongfang Mining International (CDM). CDM is a 100% owned subsidiary of China-based Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company Ltd (Huayou Cobalt), one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cobalt products. Operating in the DRC since 2006, CDM buys cobalt from traders, who buy directly from the miners. CDM then smelts the ore at its plant in the DRC before exporting it to China. There, Huayou Cobalt further smelts and sells the processed cobalt to battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea. In turn, these companies sell to battery manufacturers, which then sell on to well-known consumer brands.
Using public records, including investor documents and statements published on company websites, researchers identified battery component manufacturers who were listed as sourcing processed ore from Huayou Cobalt. They then went on to trace companies who were listed as customers of the battery component manufacturers, in order to establish how the cobalt ends up in consumer products. In seeking to understand how this international supply chain works, as well as to ask questions about each company’s due diligence policy, Amnesty International wrote to Huayou Cobalt and 25 other companies in China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, UK, and the USA. These companies include some of the world’s largest and best known consumer electronics companies, including Apple Inc., Dell, HP Inc. (formerly Hewlett-Packard Company), Huawei, Lenovo (Motorola), LG, Microsoft Corporation, Samsung, Sony and Vodafone, as well as vehicle manufacturers like Daimler AG, Volkswagen and Chinese firm BYD. Their replies are detailed in the report’s Annex.
As backdrop to the problems mentioned above, it is worth pointing out that keeping the country under military siege is useful to many parties, internal and foreign. Over the past 20 years of violent conflict, control of these valuable mineral resources has been a lucrative way for warring parties to finance their violence – that is, buying the products of western weapons corporations – and to promote the chaotic circumstances that make minimal accountability and maximum profit easiest. The Global Witness report ‘Faced with a gun, what can you do?’ cited above followed the supply chain of these minerals from warring parties to middlemen to international buyers: people happy to profit from the sale of ‘blood minerals’ to corporations which, in turn, are happy to buy them cheaply to manufacture their highly profitable hi-tech products.
Moreover, according to the Global Witness report, although the Congolese army and rebel groups – such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel force opposed to the Rwandan government that has taken refuge in the Congo since the 1994 Rwanda genocide – have been warring on opposite sides for years. They are collaborators in the mining effort, at times providing each other with road and airport access and even sharing their spoils. Researchers say they found evidence that the mineral trade is much more extensive and profitable than previously suspected: one Congolese government official reported that at least 90% of all gold exports from the country were undeclared. And the report charges that the failure of foreign governments to crack down on illicit mining and trade has undercut development endeavors supposedly undertaken by the international community in the war-torn region.
Social and Environmental Costs
Of course, against this background of preoccupation with the militarized exploitation of mineral resources for vast profit, ordinary Congolese people suffer extraordinary ongoing violence. Apart from the abuses mentioned above, four women are raped every five minutes in the Congo, according to a study done in May 2011. ‘These nationwide estimates of the incidence of rape are 26 times higher than the 15,000 conflict-related cases confirmed by the United Nations for the DRC in 2010’. Despite the country having the highest number of UN peacekeeping forces in the world – where the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has operated since the turn of the century – the level of sexual violence soldiers have perpetrated against women is staggering. Currently, there is still much violence in the region, as well as an overwhelming amount of highly strategic mass rape.
Unsurprisingly, given the international community’s complete indifference, despite rhetoric to the contrary, to the plight of Congolese people, it is not just Congolese soldiers who are responsible for the rapes. UN ‘peacekeepers’ are perpetrators too.
And the Congo is a violently dangerous place for children as well with, for example, Child Soldiers International reporting that with a variety of national and foreign armed groups and forces operating in the country for over 20 years, the majority of fighting forces have recruited and used children, and most still exploit boys and girls today with girls forced to become girl soldiers but to perform a variety of other sexual and ‘domestic’ roles too. Of course, child labour is completely out of control with many impoverished families utterly dependent on it for survival.
In addition, many Congolese also end up as refugees in neighbouring countries or as internally displaced people in their own country.
As you would expect, it is not just human beings who suffer. With rebel soldiers (such as the Rwanda-backed M23), miners and poachers endlessly plundering inadequately protected national parks and other wild places for their resources, illegal mining is rampant, over-fishing a chronic problem, illegal logging (and other destruction such as charcoal burning for cooking) of rain forests is completely out of control in some places, poaching of hippopotamuses, elephants, chimpanzees and okapi for ivory and bushmeat is unrelenting (often despite laws against hunting with guns), and wildlife trafficking of iconic species (including the increasingly rare mountain gorilla) simply beyond the concern of most people.
Some visionary Congolese continue devoting their efforts, in phenomenally difficult circumstances including lack of funding, to building a society where ordinary Congolese people have the chance to create a meaningful life for themselves. Two individuals and organizations who particularly inspire me are based in Goma in eastern Congo where the fighting is worst.
And Christophe Nyambatsi Mutaka is the key figure at the Groupe Martin Luther King that promotes active nonviolence, human rights and peace. Christophe’s group particularly works on reducing sexual and other violence against women.
There are also solidarity groups, based in the West, that work to draw attention to the nightmare happening in the Congo. These include Friends of the Congo that works to inform people and agitate for change and groups like Child Soldiers International mentioned above.
If you would like to better understand the depravity of those individuals in the Congo (starting with the dictator Joseph Kabila but including all those officials, bureaucrats and soldiers) who enable, participate in or ignore the violence and exploitation; the presidents and prime ministers of western governments who ignore exploitation, by their locally-based corporations, of the Congo; the heads of multinational corporations that exploit the Congo – such as Anthony Hayward (Chair of Glencore), Richard Adkerson (CEO of Freeport-McMoRan), George A. Forrest and Malta David Forrest (Chair and CEO respectively of Forrest Group International), Christopher L Coleman (Chair of Randgold Resources) and Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan (CEO of AngloGold Ashanti) – as well as those individuals in international organizations such as the UN (starting with Secretary-General António Guterres) and the EU (headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission), who ignore, provoke, support and/or profit from this violence and exploitation, you will find the document ‘Why Violence?‘ and the website ‘Feelings First‘ instructive.
Whether passively or actively complicit, each of these depraved individuals (along with other individuals within the global elite) does little or nothing to draw attention to, let alone work to profoundly change, the situation in the Congo which denies most Congolese the right to a meaningful life in any enlightened sense of these words.
If you would like to help, you can do so by supporting the efforts of the individual activists and solidarity organizations indicated above or those like them.
And if you would like to support efforts to remove the dictatorship of Joseph Kabila and/or get corrupt foreign governments, corporations and organizations out of the Congo, you can do so by planning and implementing or supporting a nonviolent strategy that is designed to achieve one or more of these objectives.
If you are still reading this article and you feel the way I do about this ongoing atrocity, then I invite you to participate, one way or another, in ending it.
For more than 500 years, the Congo has been brutalized by the extraordinary violence inflicted by those who have treated the country as a resource – for slaves, rubber, timber, wildlife and minerals – to be exploited.
This will only end when enough of us commit ourselves to acting on the basis that 500 years is long enough. Liberate the Congo!
Canada’s paper of record pulled another layer off the rotting onion of propaganda obscuring the Rwandan tragedy. But, the Globe and Mail has so far remained unwilling to challenge prominent Canadians who’ve crafted the fairy tale serving Africa’s most ruthless dictator.
Two weeks ago a front-page Globe article added to an abundance of evidence suggesting Paul Kagame’s RPF shot down the plane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana, which sparked the mass killings of spring 1994. “New information supports claims Kagame forces were involved in assassination that sparked Rwandan genocide”, noted the headline. The Globe all but confirmed that the surface-to-air missiles used to assassinate the Rwandan and Burundian Hutu presidents came from Uganda, which backed the RPF’s bid to conquer its smaller neighbour. (A few thousand exiled Tutsi Ugandan troops, including the deputy minister of defence, “deserted” to invade Rwanda in 1990.) The new revelations strengthen those who argue that responsibility for the mass killings in spring 1994 largely rests with the Ugandan/RPF aggressors and their US/British/Canadian backers.
Despite publishing multiple stories over the past two years questioning the dominant narrative, the Globe has largely ignored the Canadians that shaped this Kagame-friendly storyline. I’ve written a number of articles detailing Roméo Dallaire’s important role in this sordid affair, but another widely regarded Canadian has offered significant ideological support to Kagame’s crimes in Rwanda and the Congo.
As Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF in the late 1990s Stephen Lewis was appointed to a Panel of Eminent Personalities to Investigate the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda and the Surrounding Events. Reportedly instigated by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and partly funded by Canada, the Organization of African Unity’s 2000 report, “The Preventable Genocide”, was largely written by Lewis recruit Gerald Caplan, who was dubbed Lewis’ “close friend and alter ego of nearly 50 years.”
While paying lip service to the complex interplay of ethnic, class and regional politics, as well as international pressures, that spurred the “Rwandan Genocide”, the 300-page report is premised on the unsubstantiated claim there was a high level plan by the Hutu government to kill all Tutsi. It ignores the overwhelming logic and evidence pointing to the RPF as the culprit in shooting down the plane carrying President Habyarimana and much of the army high command, which sparked the mass killings of spring 1994.
The report also rationalizes Rwanda’s repeated invasions of the Congo, including a 1,500 km march to topple the Mobutu regime in Kinshasa and subsequent re-invasion after the government it installed expelled Rwandan troops. That led to millions of deaths during an eight-country war between 1998 and 2003.
In a Democracy Now interview concerning the 2000 Eminent Personalities report Lewis mentioned “evidence of major human rights violations on the part of the present [Kagame] government of Rwanda, particularly post-genocide in the Kivus and in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” But, he immediately justified the slaughter, which surpassed Rwanda’s 1994 casualty toll. “Now, let me say that the [Eminent Personalities] panel understands that until Rwanda’s borders are secure, there will always be these depredations. And another terrible failure of the international community was the failure to disarm the refugee camps in the then-Zaire, because it was an invitation to the génocidaires to continue to attack Rwanda from the base within the now- Congo. So we know that has to be resolved. That’s still what’s plaguing the whole Great Lakes region.”
An alternative explanation of “what’s plaguing the whole Great Lakes region” is US/UK/Canada backed Ugandan/RPF belligerence, which began with their invasion of Rwanda in 1990 and continued with their 1996, 1998 and subsequent invasions of the Congo. “An unprecedented 600-page investigation by the UN high commissioner for human rights”, reported a 2010 Guardian story, found Rwanda responsible for “crimes against humanity, war crimes, or even genocide” in the Congo.
Fifteen years after the mass killing in Rwanda in 1994 Lewis was still repeating Kagame’s rationale for unleashing mayhem in the Congo. In 2009 he told a Washington D.C. audience that “just yesterday morning up to two thousand Rwandan troops crossed into the Eastern Region of the Congo to hunt down, it is said, the Hutu génocidaires.”
A year earlier Lewis blamed Rwandan Hutu militias for the violence in Eastern Congo. “What’s happening in eastern Congo is the continuation of the genocide in Rwanda … The Hutu militias that sought refuge in Congo in 1994, attracted by its wealth, are perpetrating rape, mutilation, cannibalism with impunity from world opinion.”
In 2009 the Rwanda News Agency described Lewis as “a very close friend to President Paul Kagame.” And for good reason. Lewis’ has sought to muzzle any questioning of the “RPF and U.S.-U.K.-Canadian party line” on the tragedy of 1994. In 2014 he signed an open letter condemning the BBC documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story. The 1,266 word public letter refers to the BBC’s “genocide denial”, “genocide deniers” or “deniers” at least 13 times. Notwithstanding Lewis and his co-signers’ smears, which gave Kagame cover to ban the BBC’s Kinyarwanda station, Rwanda the Untold Story includes interviews with a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), a former high-ranking member of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda and a number of former Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) associates of Kagame. In “The Kagame-Power Lobby’s Dishonest Attack on the BBC 2’s Documentary on Rwanda”, Edward S. Herman and David Peterson write:
[Lewis, Gerald Caplan, Romeo Dallaire et al.’s] cry of the immorality of ‘genocide denial’ provides a dishonest cover for Paul Kagame’s crimes in 1994 and for his even larger crimes in Zaire-DRC [Congo]. … [The letter signees are] apologists for Kagame Power, who now and in years past have served as intellectual enforcers of an RPF and U.S.-U.K.-Canadian party line.
Recipient of 37 honorary degrees from Canadian universities, Lewis has been dubbed a “spokesperson for Africa” and “one of the greatest Canadians ever”. On Africa no Canadian is more revered than Lewis. While he’s widely viewed as a champion of the continent, Lewis has backed Africa’s most bloodstained ruler.
It is now time for the Globe and Mail to peel back another layer of the rotting onion of propaganda and investigate Canadian connections to crimes against humanity in Rwanda, Congo and the wider Great Lakes region of Africa.
Anya Parampil highlights the Democratic Republic of Congo after Congolese Dr. Denis Mukwege was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last week. She explains how the country’s brutal history of colonization by Belgium created the deadliest conflict since World War II, with up to 6.9 million people dying since 1998 in a battle for the Congo’s natural resources and minerals. Kambale Musavuli, National Spokesperson for Friends of the Congo, joins In Question to describe how he thinks the Congolese people can finally win control of their own destiny.
I’m sitting at the splendid building of the Singapore National Library, in a semi-dark room, microfilm inserted into a high-tech machine. I’m watching and then filming and photographing several old Malaysian newspapers dating back from October 1965.
These reports were published right after the horrible 1965 military coup in Indonesia, which basically overthrew the progressive President Sukarno and liquidated then the third largest Communist party on Earth, PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia). Between one and three million Indonesian people lost their lives in some of the most horrifying massacres of the 20th century. From a socialist (and soon to be Communist) country, Indonesia descended into the present pits of turbo-capitalist, as well as religious and extreme right-wing gaga.
The United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Holland and several other Western nations, directly sponsored the coup, while directing both the pro-Western treasonous factions in the military, as well as the religious leaders who stood, from the start, at the forefront of the genocide.
All this information is, of course, widely available in the de-classified archives of both the CIA and U.S. State Department. It can be accessed, analyzed and reproduced. I personally made a film about the events, and so have several other directors.
But it isn’t part of the memory of humanity. In Southeast Asia, it is known only to a handful of intellectuals.
In Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand, the Indonesian post-1965 fascism is a taboo topic. It is simply not discussed. “Progressive” intellectuals here are, like in all other ‘client’ states of the West, paid to be preoccupied with their sex orientation, with gender issues and personal ‘freedoms’, but definitely not with the essential matters (Western imperialism, neo-colonialism, the savage and grotesque forms of capitalism, the plunder of local natural resources and environment, as well as disinformation, plus the forcefully injected ignorance that is accompanied by mass amnesia) that have been shaping so extremely and so negatively this part of the world.
In Indonesia itself, the Communist Party is banned and the general public sees it as a culprit, not as a victim.
The West is laughing behind the back of its brainwashed victims. It is laughing all the way to the bank.
Lies are obviously paying off.
No other part of the world has suffered from Western imperialism as much after WWII, as Southeast Asia did, perhaps with two exceptions, those of Africa and the Middle East.
In so-called Indochina, the West murdered close to ten million people, during the indiscriminate bombing campaigns and other forms of terror – in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The abovementioned Indonesian coup took at least 1 million human lives. 30% of the population of East Timor was exterminated by the Indonesian occupation, which was fully supported by the West. The Thai regime, fully subservient to the West, killed indiscriminately its leftists in the north and in the capital. The entire region has been suffering from extreme religious implants, sponsored by the West itself, and by its allies from the Gulf.
But the West is admired here, with an almost religious zeal.
The U.S., British and French press agencies and ‘cultural centers’ are spreading disinformation through local media outlets owned by subservient ‘elites’. Local ‘education’ has been devotedly shaped by Western didactic concepts. In places like Malaysia, Indonesia, but also Thailand, the greatest achievement is to graduate from university in one of the countries that used to colonize this part of the world.
Victim countries, instead of seeking compensation in courts, are actually admiring and plagiarizing the West, while pursuing, even begging for funding from their past and present tormentors.
Southeast Asia, now obedient, submissive, phlegmatic and stripped off the former revolutionary left-wing ideologies, is where the Western indoctrination and propaganda scored unquestionable victory.
The same day, I turned on the television set in my hotel room, and watched the Western coverage of the situation in Idlib, the last stronghold of the Western-sponsored terrorists on Syrian territory.
Russia has called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting warning that the terrorists might stage a chemical attack, and then blame it, together with the West, on the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.
NATO battleships have been deployed to the region. There can be no doubt – it has been a ‘good old’ European/North American scenario at work, once again: ‘We hit you, kill your people, and then bomb you as a punishment’.
Imperialist gangsters then point accusative fingers at the victims (in this case Syria) and at those who are trying to protect them (Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, China). Just like in a kindergarten, or a primary school; remember? A boy hits someone from behind and then screams, pointing at someone else: “It was him, it was him!” Miraculously, until now, the West has always gotten away with this ‘strategy’, of course, at the cost of billions of victims, on all continents.
That is how it used to be for centuries, and that is how it still works. That is how it will continue to be, until such terror and gangsterism is stopped.
For years and decades, we were told that the world is now increasingly inter-connected, that nothing of great importance could happen, without it being immediately spotted and reported by vigilant media lenses, and ‘civil society’.
Yet, thousands of things are happening and no one is noticing.
Just in the last two decades, entire countries have been singled-out by North America and Europe, then half-starved to death through embargos and sanctions, before being finally attacked and broken to pieces: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya to mention just a few. Governments of several left-wing nations have been overthrown either from outside, or through their own, local, servile elites and media; among them Brazil, Honduras and Paraguay. Countless Western companies and their local cohorts are committing the unbridled plunder of natural resources in such places as Borneo/Kalimantan or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), totally ruining tropical forests while murdering hundreds of species.
Are we, as a planet, really inter-connected? How much do people know about each other, or about what is done to their brothers and sisters on different continents?
I have worked in some 160 countries, and I can testify without the slightest hesitation: ‘Almost nothing’. And: ‘Less and much less!’
The Western empire and its lies, has managed to fragment the world to previously unknown extremes. It is all done ‘in the open’, in full view of the world, which is somehow unable to see and identify the most urgent threats to its survival. Mass media propaganda outlets are serving as vehicles of indoctrination, so do cultural and ‘educational’ institutions of the West or those local ones shaped by the Western concepts. That includes such diverse ‘tools’ as universities, Internet traffic manipulators, censors and self-censored individuals, social media, advertisement agencies and pop culture ‘artists’.
There is a clear pattern to Western colonialist and neo-colonialist barbarity and lies:
‘Indonesian President Sukarno and his closest ally the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) were trying to build a progressive and self-sufficient country. Therefore, they had to be stopped, government overthrown, party members massacred, PKI itself banned and the entire country privatized; sold to foreign interests. The overwhelming majority of Indonesians are so brainwashed by the local and Western propaganda that they still blame the Communists for the 1965 coup, no matter what the CIA archives say.’
Mossadegh of Iran was on the same, progressive course. And he ended up the same way as Sukarno. And the whole world was then charmed by the butcher, who was put to power by the West – the Shah and his lavish wife.
Chile in 1973, and thereafter, the same deadly pattern occurred, more evidence of how freedom-loving and democratic the West is.
Patrice Lumumba of Congo nationalized natural resources and tried to feed and educate his great nation. Result? Overthrown, killed. The price: some 8 million people massacred in the last two decades, or maybe many more than that (see my film:Rwanda Gambit). Nobody knows, or everyone pretends that they don’t know.
Syria! The biggest ‘crime’ of this country, at least in the eyes of the West, consisted of trying to provide its citizens with high quality of life, while promoting Pan-Arabism. The results we all know (or do we, really?): hundreds of thousands killed by West-sponsored murderous extremists, millions exiled and millions internally displaced. And the West, naturally, is blaming Syrian President, and is ready to ‘punish him’ if he wins the war.
Irrational? But can global-scale fascism ever be rational?
The lies that are being spread by the West are piling up. They overlap, often contradict one another. But the world public is not trained to search for the truth, anymore. Subconsciously it senses that it is being lied to, but the truth is so horrifying, that the great majority of people prefer to simply take selfies, analyze and parade its sexual orientation, stick earphones into its ears and listen to empty pop music, instead of fighting for the survival of humanity.
The margin between what is a human right as an inalienable possession, and how it is seen in political terms is razor fine. In some cases, the distinctions are near impossible to make. To understand the crime of genocide is to also understand the political machinations that limited its purview. No political or cultural groups, for instance, were permitted coverage by the definition in the UN Convention responsible for criminalising it.
The same goes for the policing bodies who might use human rights in calculating fashion, less to advance an agenda of the human kind than that of the political. This can take the form of scolding, and the United States, by way of illustration, has received beratings over the years in various fields. (Think an onerous, vicious prison system, the stubborn continuation of the death penalty, and levels of striking impoverishment for an advanced industrial society.)
The other tactic common in the human rights game is gaining membership to organisations vested with the task of overseeing the protection of such rights. Membership can effectively defang and in some cases denude criticism of certain states. Allies club together to keep a united front. It was precisely this point that beset the UN Commission on Human Rights, long accused of being compromised for perceived politicisation.
The successor to the UN Commission on Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Council, has come in for a similar pasting. The righteous Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, had made it something of a personal project to reform the body. It was a body that had been opposed by the United States. But reform and tinkering are oft confused, suggesting a neutralisation of various political platforms deemed against Washington’s interests. Is it the issue of rights at stake, or simple pride and backing allies?
For one, the barb in Haley’s protestation was the HRC’s “chronic bias against Israel”, and concerns on the part of Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, a UN human rights chief unimpressed by the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents.
Accordingly, Haley announced that the United States would be withdrawing from “an organisation that is not worthy of its name”, peopled, as it were, by representatives from such states as China, Cuba, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of Congo. “We take this step,” explained Haley, “because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organisation that makes a mockery of human rights.”
The Congolese component deserved special mention, the state having become a member of the HRC even as mass graves were being uncovered at the behest of that very body. Government security forces, according to Human Rights Watch, were said to be behind abuses in the southern Kasai region since August 2016 that had left some 5,000 people dead, including 90 mass graves. A campaign against the DRC’s election to the Council, waged within various political corridors by Congolese activists, failed to inspire UN members to sufficiently change their mind in the vote. A sufficient majority was attained.
The move to withdraw the US received purring praise from Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, still glowing with satisfaction at Washington’s decision to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem. For the Israeli leader, the Council had been nothing but “a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organisation that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights.” It had avoided dealing with the big violators and abusers-in-chief, those responsible for systematically violating human rights, and had developed, according to Netanyahu, an Israel fixation, ignoring its fine pedigree as being “the one genuine democracy in the Middle East”. The slant here is clear enough: democracies so deemed do not violate human rights, and, when picked up for doing so, can ignore the overly zealous critics compromised by supposed hypocrisy.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, did not restrain himself in praise. The United States had “proven, yet again, its commitment to truth and justice and its unwillingness to allow the blind hatred of Israel in international institutions to stand unchallenged.”
The common mistake made by such states is that hypocrisy necessarily invalidates criticism of human rights abuses. To have representatives from a country purportedly shoddy on the human rights front need not negate the reasoning in assessing abuses and infractions against human rights. It certainly makes that body’s credibility much harder to float, the perpetrator being within the gates, but human rights remains the hostage of political circumstance and, worst of all, opportunistic forays. The US withdrawal from the Council does little to suggest credible reform, though it does much to advance a program of spite typical from an administration never keen on the idea of human rights to begin with. The Trump policy of detachment, extraction and unilateralism continues.