12 June 2005

Toward an African Renaissance

Common Sense
John Maxwell

I have been invited to take part in a conference, mainly of scholars, to attempt to formulate a world view for Africa and the African Diaspora. The conference, being held in Tshwane, the city formerly known as Pretoria, is a project of the Centre for African Renaissance Studies at the University of South Africa.

To take part in this assemblage, for this purpose at this time is, for me, a transcendent honour. Four decades ago, as editor of Public Opinion I published Nelson Mandela's speech in his own defence to a charge of treason against Apartheid. I published it then in a forlorn hope that one day, some day, Mandela would be freed from prison and that one day, some day, the people of South Africa would regain their freedom and their dignity.

For a long time that did not seem remotely possible. I remember interviewing James Callaghan, then deputy to Britain's premier Harold Wilson, at the 1975 Commonwealth Heads of Government conference. Callaghan was positively rude when I asked him why Britain did not abrogate its Simonstown agreement with South Africa. Britain, I said, was aiding and abetting a crime against humanity.

Ten years later, President Reagan was still welcoming Jonas Savimbi of Angola to the White House and the Congress of the United States was refusing to join in sanctions against South Africa. The enemies of the regime were, according to American leaders, terrorists. Less than 10 years after that, Mandela was free and shortly thereafter the South African people recovered their human rights and their country.

Norman Manley did not live to see that day, but he was one of the first allies of Mandela, Luthuli and company when in 1958 he banned trade with South Africa. The British, then colonial landlords of this place, told Manley he could not do that. To which Manley's answer was the equivalent of the one-fingered salute.

So, now, the times have changed and people like me can freely enter South Africa and salute its liberty.

Many of us believe that African slaves were drawn only from West Africa. In fact, the slave trade was a war against all of Africa, and people were sucked into this voracious maelstrom of the Middle Passage from all over Africa. A few years ago, an English DNA researcher discovered that one of his secretaries, a Jamaican woman from St Elizabeth, owed her mitochrondial DNA to the Kikuyu at the other side of the continent.

Slavery was not simply a crime against Africa and Africans, it was the first crime against humanity. It devastated civilisations in Africa and in the 'New world', looted the history and the wealth of hundreds of nations, depraved and dehumanised people and left as its legacy the lasting libel that black people are unable to run their own affairs.

The now rampant neo-fascist apologists for so-called neo-liberalism are in direct line of moral descent from those who petitioned Pope Nicholas V in 1454 to sanction the slave trade between Portugal and Africa. Then, in 1493 Pope Alexander VI issued this bull: granting to Spain the same privileges his predecessor had to Portugal.

In the words of the Pope, Spain now received "full and free permission to invade, search out, capture and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities and other properties, and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery".

In the generations following, learned discourses defended the system of slavery, particularly of blacks, because according to these early capitalists, blacks were not quite human and required leadership and instruction. Real humanity was the property of the Portuguese, the Spanish and later the English who the Iberians then considered pretty barbaric, if not actually barbarians.

Our slavery started with Columbus, who had been a slave trader in Africa and who wrote in his journal about the peaceful 'Indians' he had found in the Bahamas. According to him: "They are fit to be ordered about and made to work, to sow and everything else that may be needed. Nothing was lacking but to know the language and to give them orders."

In 1839, 300 years after Pope Nicholas, Pope Gregory XVI declared: "with profound sorrow - there were to be found. among the faithful men who, shamefully blinded by the desire of sordid gain, in lonely and distant countries, did not hesitate to reduce to slavery Indians, negroes and other wretched peoples, or else, by instituting or developing the trade in those who had been made slaves by others, to favour their unworthy practice."

The American fixation on the inferiority of blacks had its justification in greed - the desire for super profits from the plantations of cotton and rice and later sugar. The titration of humanity continued into the American Revolution, which after grave deliberation, decided that blacks were three-fifths human, or just 10 per cent away from apes.

But while the Americans were calculating how many capitalists could dance on the head of a peon, the slaves of Saint Domingue, the world's richest colony, rose up, abolished slavery and chased the slavemasters away.

Unfortunately for them, they did not chase all of the slavemasters away, and out of the spawn of those arose in Haiti a small group of rich, light-skinned people - the elites, whose interests have fitted perfectly into the interests of the racists in the United States.

Between them, last year, on the second centenary of the abolition of Slavery and the Independence of Haiti, those interests engineered the re-enslavement of Haiti, kidnapping and expelling the president and installing in his place a gang of murderous thugs, killers, rapists and con-men.

An American named Luigi Einaudi, deputy secretary-general of the OAS was pleased to declare a short time before that usurpation of democracy, that the only thing wrong with Haiti was that it was being run by Haitians.

It was the first time in nearly 100 years that this was the case, the Americans having occupied Haiti for 15 years to 1934, and leaving behind them puppets whose corruption and wickedness flowered into the Duvalier dictatorship of father and son. This arrangement suited the Americans quite well until the Haitians rose up and threw out 'Baby Doc' Duvalier in pursuit of freedom.

The Haitians did not get much of a chance to enjoy that freedom. The leader of their struggle, a priest named Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was elected president only to be overthrown before halfway through his term.

He was restored with American troops, not before a black American leader had energised President Clinton by beginning a fast unto death. Randall Robinson, who undertook that fast, is one of the participants in the Tshwane conference. I look forward to meeting him.

Robinson is an American hero, driven from his native land by its hypocrisy, hysteria and greed combined with a dispassionate inhumanity. His book published earlier this year by Penguin is titled Quitting America. It is much more than about quitting America. It is also an elegiac appeal for us to recognise our common humanity and our duty to our brothers.

In America this week, the Senate, after 30 years of appeals by Afro-American interests, will formally apologise for taking so long to pass a law against lynching. That same Senate, after two years of bullying by the president and his claque, approved the elevation of Mrs Janice Rogers Brown, a judge of California's Supreme Court to the Federal Appeals Court in Washington, D C.

Mrs Brown is black and, in my view, typical of those who, like the African slave catchers in Africa, colluded with oppressors against their own real community interest in the hope that by feeding their friends to the crocodiles they will not be eaten.

"If we can invoke no ultimate limits on the power of government, a democracy is inevitably transformed into a kleptocracy - a license to steal, a warrant for oppression."

She seems blissfully unaware that she is in fact describing her own Government, led by people like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush, who have demonstrated no commitment to human rights and freedom but have instituted the rule of an oligarchy, by the oligarchy, for the oligarchy. How would Mrs Brown deal, one wonders, with someone described by the Bush Administration as that legal fiction an 'unlawful combatant'?

Mrs Brown is against such things as affirmative action, but she is for recognising commercial enterprises' right to free speech, as if they were human. "In the heyday of liberal democracy, all roads lead to slavery," she has warned.

In her speeches she has argued that society and the courts have turned away from the founders' emphasis on personal responsibility toward a culture of government regulation and dependency that threatens fundamental freedoms.

They are also turning away from the definition of blacks as part human, but that does not apparently concern Mrs Brown. In the gated democracy of which she is now a gatekeeper, it would be interesting to hear her views on what her own prospects would now be as a sharecropper's daughter without the protection of the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action.

This would be especially poignant in the new world created by the neo-liberal counter-revolution. In this world, the rights of workers and the poor are being taken away, they are getting poorer while the rich are getting richer and even less accountable.

According to the New York Times' interpretation of the latest American income statistics, after the Bush tax cuts, the only taxpayers whose tax liabilities declined were those in the top 0.1 per cent, that is, one-thousandth of the taxpaying cohort. According to the New York Times: "The average income for the top 0.1 per cent was $3 million in 2002, the latest year for which averages are available. That number is two-and-a-half times the $1.2 million, adjusted for inflation, that group reported in 1980. No other income group rose nearly as fast.

The share of the nation's income earned by those in this uppermost category has more than doubled since 1980, to 7.4 per cent in 2002. The share of income earned by the rest of the top 10 per cent rose far less, and the share earned by the bottom 90 per cent fell.

The Times analysis points to an increasing tendency for the state to operate quite specifically on behalf of the rich and to pauperise the poor. This is precisely the effect that globalisation is having on the rest of the world.

In Africa, that means that hundreds of children die every day from starvation or gastroenteritis because their governments cannot afford to train or pay doctors or to provide clean drinking water.

Yet Africa, according to the World Bank's 2003 Global Development Finance report, is the land of opportunity, offering "the highest returns on foreign direct investment of any region in the world".

One question I intend to pose is why Africans should not share in their own wealth and why the shares should be decided by people in boardrooms in New York, London and Zurich?

05 June 2005

The Naked and the Un-Dead

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Havana, Cuba. Friday: For anyone who might feel queasy at killing a cockroach, the words and the images are more than disturbing: they begin to remodel one's view of 'human nature' itself.

Even though we know, in Jamaica, that people kill other people at the rate of two dozen a week, nothing can prepare us for the sight and sound of Orlando Bosch - a Cuban-born professional murderer, attempting to justify his part in killing a planeload of innocents off the coast of Barbados 30 years ago.

To Bosch they all deserved to die. The members of a Korean trade mission were, to him, evil allies of Fidel Castro; the teenaged Cuban fencing team was fair game because they were 'niggers' - teenagers who had won every fencing medal at the Pan American Games and were taking the medals home to present to Castro because "he had been so good to them".

The Guyanese students on their way to medical school in Cuba deserved to die because "Bishop (sic) was then president of Guyana" and so on.

It was worse to hear the stories of the survivors of the United States' four decades war against Cuba. Mothers awoke to the sound of gunfire to find their children's shredded bodies beside them, the young girl who had dreamt of growing up to wear high heels awoke to find her feet amputated by a 50 calibre machine gun bullet; the survivor of the sabotage of the ammunition ship La Coubre in Havana harbour - when hundreds died - awoke to find himself covered by human body parts.

And what could prepare you for the story of Hebe de Bonafini who has spent almost every day for the last 26 years with other mothers in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, calling for justice for their children, tortured, murdered and 'disappeared'.

Bosch (left) and Posada Carriles. planned and executed the bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane on October 6, 1976

Bonafini lost one son to the murderers of the state, then another, then her house was burnt down; one of her compatriots disappeared, then another; Susanna, Estela and Mariposa, because they insisted on going to the Plaza de Mayo to demand justice.

And then she met the plausible young lieutenant who came ostensibly to give comfort but who was in reality a spy and a murderer himself. The mothers were terrified. Somehow they found the courage to continue. They read American-produced manuals of torture approved by the US State Department and the CIA.

One manual even instructed torturers in the kidnapping of children to terrorise the population. Pregnant women were murdered; babies and children of murdered mothers taken from them and given to their torturers and high officials of state, to be reared as anti-communist activists.

And the mothers read the manuals and learned in excruciating detail of the obscene horrors their children had been made to suffer, all in the name of anti-Communism and "Operation Condor".

"Operation Condor" was the name of a US-sponsored programme of terrorist murder, torture and 'disappearance' intended to cleanse Latin America of socialists and communists and revolutionaries and whoever got in the way of their crusade.

Operation Condor murdered Orlando Letelier, President Allende's foreign minister, seeking justice in Washington for his murdered leader. Condor murdered Ronnie Moffitt, Letelier's American secretary, blown up in the same fireball Condor made of Letelier's car. Condor killed Chilean generals Orlando Leighton in Rome and Carlos Prats in Argentina, because they were known to be loyal to the oaths they had sworn to protect Chile.

More than 3,000 friends of Cuba are in Havana, hearing evidence, giving testimony, intended to pressure the US to do the decent thing - to surrender Luis Posada Carriles to a properly constituted Venezuelan court to answer charges that he engineered the mass murder of 73 people in a Cubana Airlines plane off the coast of Barbados on October 6, 1976.

The Government and people of Cuba insist that they do not want revenge, only justice. They take President Bush seriously when he says that if you are not against terrorism, then you are a terrorist, or that he who shelters a terrorist is a terrorist himself.

Last week, the Cubans exposed a whole panorama of terrorism. As they pointed out, they have been terrorised for 46 years, ever since Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and Juan Almeida led the 26th of July movement in its three-year-long guerrilla war against the bloody tyranny of Fulgencio Batista.

Batista's henchmen presented to Haydee Santamaria, on a plate, the eyes of her murdered brother Abel. Today, nearly half-a-century later, the Cuban people are facing the same enemies, using the same methods to frighten them out of their freedom and rob them of their dignity.

In 1960, I was arrested in Havana's Parque Central. I was taking pictures of the young children of Juventud Rebelde (a sort of junior cadet corps) marching in the Parque Central.

A week or so earlier, Life magazine had published a spread on the same troop of Juventud Rebelde, drilling in the same park. The pictures had been taken by a Black American photographer. I was released to great jubilation when the police discovered that I was a British subject: "Ingles! Ingles!" they shouted when I found a UN temporary Press pass from the year before.

I had gone to Cuba at my own expense to find out about this Cuban revolution which was creating so many waves in North America. Everybody I knew was against my trip. Wills Isaacs, then minister of trade and industry, offered me a year on an Israeli kibbutz if I would give up my 'dangerous' plan.

In Cuba I found teenagers teaching their elders to read, I found the army leading construction brigades hand assembling prefabricated concrete houses to replace the 'bohios' (thatched huts) in Pinar del Rio. I saw and heard Fidel and Che at a million-strong meeting in the Plaza de la Revolucion and interviewed Carlos Rafael Rodriquez. I learned about the Agrarian reform.

I met former prostitutes who rejoiced in the fact that Fidel had freed them from bondage, teachers who had previously 'rented' their jobs from soldiers, milicianos and milicianas intent on creating a new Cuba. Right in front of the National Capitol was a huge sign advertising Coca Cola. Inside, the Capitol had been transformed into the Ministry for the Recovery of Stolen National Property.

The workers were militant. At Cuba's biggest daily newspaper, Diario de La Marina, the workers insisted on inserting 'coletillas' - brief disclaimers attached to anti-Castro propaganda reports. The management resisted; the Government intervened, the paper was taken over. Freedom of the Press, the Americans said, was dead in Cuba.

The night I arrived in Cuba, bandits sped down the Prado spraying machine gunfire indiscriminately. About that time, signs produced by the US Embassy began appearing on the houses of those more loyal to the US than to their own country: "This building is under the protection of the United States of America."

Like magic, new signs sprouted the next day: "This house is under the protection of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Republic of Cuba."

"We are no Communist, we are Humanist," the people told me then. Policemen could not be seen in bars. Pregnant women were told to go see their doctors every six weeks. Most Cuban doctors had deserted to the US. The Government began a crash programme to train doctors.

Nowadays, every city block has its own doctor, its own clinic. Thousands of Cuban doctors and nurses and teachers work in countries all over the developing world and Cuban biotechnology is among the world's best.

The Cubans estimate that the United States campaigns, not including the embargo, have cost them more than 3,000 lives and $65 billion. The embargo has cost them another $79 billion. Despite this punishment, the Cubans' education and health services are among the best in the world, and rates of crime and HIV/AIDS are practically undetectable.

The odds of getting mugged in Cuba are probably about the same as in Greenland. In all the words spoken at this conference, as harrowing and gut-wrenching as they have been, the most potent have been those of the president of the National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon.

Alarcon, in his speech, quoted only official documents of the United States provided under the Freedom of Information Act.
These documents contain explosive information about the role of the US in terrorism in Latin America.

One wonders what the US Press, in its magisterial freedom, will make of them. Among other things the documents witness:
  • Luis Posada Carriles for most of the last half century has been a CIA asset, trained, supported and protected by the CIA;
  • Orlando Bosch was involved in the assassination of Orlando Letelier; that he had boasted to that effect at a fund-raising dinner in Caracas and that those present drank a toast to the murder of Letelier;
  • the US Government knew, three months before the event, that Orlando Bosch and Posada Carriles were planning to blow up a Cuban plane in the air;
  • Bosch and Posada, with Lugo and Hernandez, planned and executed the bombing and reported back to the US to that effect;
  • Bosch and Posada (then head of DISIP - the Venezuelan Secret Service) had plans to leave Venezuela after the bombing and that Henry Kissinger, then national security adviser to President Ford, was aware of the facts and that the CIA was attempting to get him out;
  • the United States intervened to get official Salvadoran identity papers for Posada Carriles who then became national security adviser to the Salvadorean Government;
  • in 1992, Posada Carriles spent six-and-a-half hours in the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras;
  • A bomb exploded at la Guardia Airport in New York - the most atrocious attack until then, in the USA. The perpetrator was Orlando Otero Hernandez, eventually identified as the culprit while he was in Chile with Bosch as the guest of Pinochet. He got eight years in prison for the atrocity.
Then there is the case of the Miami Five, Cubans sentenced in Miami to long jail terms for "espionage", although the evidence presented made it clear that they were not spying against the US but gathering information against terrorists.

They infiltrated the Cuban Mafia in Miami and learned of plots to blow up aircraft. Their information was sent by Cuba to the proper authorities in the USA as required under the Montreal Convention. Instead of arresting the plotters, the US arrested the informants and sentenced them to long terms in jail, at huge distances from their families and under conditions which amount to torture.

While the Miami police were busy rounding up the Cubans and framing them for espionage, several gentlemen from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere were undergoing flight training at airfields nearby, for a mission that would shake the world.