18 December 2005

Oliver Twist in Hong Kong

Common Sense
John Maxwell

On Friday morning, as I write, the Leviathan called Globalisation seems headed for the rocks in Hong Kong. Stark failure faces the Doha round of negotiations for a new world order in which imperialist capitalism would adopt a new persona - a kinder, gentler face disguising the same old rapacious exploitation of the poor of the world.

Masked protesters from the Philippines lead other protesters in marching towards the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in continuing protest Friday Dec 16, 2005 against the 6th WTO Ministerial Conference in this former British colony. The activists have been holding daily protests against WTO's trade liberalisation. (Photo: AP)

Among the rocks in Globalisation's seaway are the newly awakened giants of the Third World or so-called Developing World - India, Brazil and others, as well as - Surprise! Surprise!! - the primary producers of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP), former colonies of metropolitan Europe. Marooned in their miserable alms houses, these minor mendicants are saying to the rich masters "Please, Sir, we want more!"

The masters of the alms houses, the Americans, Europeans, Japanese and other members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are bemused by these demands, not quite understanding what the little beggars want when they say they are demanding justice.

Absent from the global forum are the Haitians, the people who began the whole process of decolonisation and freedom from plantation slavery. And that is where the apparently intractable quarrel about economic justice began between the rich and the poor of the world.

The Haitian revolution began a 200-year-long process of decolonisation which is ending, as it began, with the Haitians struggling to free themselves from slavery. They were not defeated by force of arms but by compound interest; to escape the French and American trade embargo of their newly independent country, the Haitians agreed to pay the French reparations for their war of Independence.

In neighbouring Jamaica, the planters were recompensed for losing their property when slavery was abolished. Nothing was paid to the ex-slaves, guaranteeing, as in Haiti, the continuing supremacy of the usurers and the shopkeepers. Haiti was the first highly indebted poor country, having to pay the French a penalty estimated by President Aristide to equal US$25,000,000,000 in today's money.

When the Haitians defeated two of Napoleon's armies, a British army and the remnants of the Spanish army in San Domingue, they began a process of exporting revolution and freedom, a process for which they have never been forgiven. It was the Haitians who armed and dispatched Simon Bolivar on his final and successful mission to free Latin America from Spanish rule.

Although slavery was not abolished in Brazil and the United States for another half century, and Cuba did not gain its full independence for another century-and-a-half, Haiti began the process which finally transformed piracy and the plantation economy into the system known today as capitalism. The plantation economy is moribund - not quite dead.

It survives in severely truncated form - as a paraplegic and dysfunctional system in the ACP countries.

There, in Jamaica and other places, its traditions remain strong: social dysfunctions, including seasonal unemployment, economic emigration, social stratification and the stranglehold of elites on primitive economies. In these economies, political parties which claim to represent the masses enjoy the fruits of office while the elites enjoy the much richer perquisites of economic power.

In these economies, it is the commission agents and the shopkeepers who are in power, expressing their displeasure with mass movements by withdrawing their confidence and their bank accounts from time to time to enforce 'fiscal discipline' and usurious rates of unearned rent - income from 'government paper' issued by the representatives of the wealth creators for the greater good of the wealth consumers.

Reparative Justice?

The helplessness and intellectual bankruptcy of the plantation economies is nowhere better expressed than in last Thursday's speech in Hong Kong by Jamaica's minister of foreign affairs, the Hon K D Knight, QC.

According to this newspaper on Friday, Mr Knight told the Ministerial Meeting of the WTO that the deliberations would only be successful "to the extent that there was a discernible movement on the development agenda". This, according to Mr Knight, meant:
  • The promotion of the productive sectors through trade;
  • The sustained development of the commodity sector;
  • Building supply capacity and competitiveness and increasing market access for developing countries in the areas of exports, including agriculture, commodities, apparel and labour and resource intensive manufactures and services.
Which, being interpreted, means: "Give us a 'bly' enabling us to build more free zones, dig bigger and more destructive holes in the landscape and have enough left over for food stamps." The argument over Universal Human Rights and Justice which began in Haiti 201 years ago is now subsumed into a piteous cry for bigger, better, kindlier and gentler alms houses.

The Third World are asking, like Bustamante in 1944 in Jamaica, for a 'lickle more bread and a lickle butter'. There are some others who are asking for an entirely different menu, for what some describe as a 'preposterous' demand for reparations, compensation for the injuries and injustices of the last five centuries. Their argument is that just as the Germans had to recompense the Jews for the injuries inflicted on them and their fellows by Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich, so should the Americans, English, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese and Belgians pay for their depredations in Africa and the New World.

These depredations continued after slavery and continue to this day, as the Europeans, made rich by their exploitation, have maximised and entrenched their extortion of wealth by new profit-making systems in the form of tariffs, protectionism, quotas and, most of all, unfair terms of trade and ruinous interest rates.

These systems in turn, finance a wealth distributive system in subsidies and social services which keep the metropolitan working classes out of political and trade union mischief.

What Mr Knight and his Third World backers want is that the rich recognise that we too, have domestic constituencies to be mollified. The unspoken rider to this argument is 'Hey! food stamps are insurance against civil unrest and a lot cheaper than an expeditionary force'.

Meanwhile, the colonial elites, amassing new fortunes by the week, don't put their money where their mouths are - their funds are in Cayman, Nassau, Bermuda, Liechtenstein and Jersey.

From there, the money which could be invested in Jamaican enterprise, becomes part of the immense fund of Foreign Direct Investment which is channelled by the global casino bosses into China, Taiwan and other places whose ministers are never tired of echoing the European masters' preachments that we are poor because we are poor and/or shiftless, or socialist, or corrupt or simply stupid.

In the 1970s, as part of the many short, sharp shocks administered by the international financial institutions (IFI), we were told we could not subsidise our farmers or our poor. Subsidies distorted the market. Our subsidies, instead, were added to the subsidies paid to American agro-industry and European farmers. It makes sound economic sense to subsidise the millionaire Fanjuls in Florida sugar or market colossi like Archer Daniels, Monsanto, Chiquita (ex-United Fruit), Boeing and Microsoft.

The British are refusing to give up their £8,000,000,000 annual subsidy from Europe and the French will fight to the death to retain their even larger dole from the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.

The electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) of the IFIs works no better on countries than it did on the mentally ill in 'asylums'. Nor does the intellectual and emotional lobotomisation of whole generations of political leaders. We now have leaders whose mental processes have been surgically separated from their cultural roots, but out in the grassroots, crazy people still speak of socialism and absurd concepts such as the greatest good for the greatest number.

Paradoxically, political ECT may yet prove beneficial; if only we could persuade the rich and powerful to behave as brutally as their perceived self-interest tells them.

Nothing would be better for us than a Cuban-style embargo, forcing us to think for ourselves, forcing us to look to our real resources, in our cultures, our imaginations, our ingenuity, our people.

We prattle about agro-industry, forgetting that sugar was the original and most deadly of all agro-industry. Mr Kinght's prescriptions lead to an intellectual, economic and cultural dead end. If we were to wake up and realise that if we stopped paying extortionate interest - exporting barrels of money to Cayman, Bermuda, and similar ratholes - we would immediately triple the amount at the disposal of the government; we would understand that salvation is in our own hands and not in the hands of the successors to Enron, or the psalm-singers of Microsoft or the cooing doves of Citibank, Standard & Poors and the US State Department.

If the people of Jamaica were to understand that the government of Jamaica exports twice as much of their own hard-earned money to develop foreign capitalism as it spends on developing Jamaica, things would soon change. And we would not have to repatriate Haitians running away from tyranny.

Democracy and Development

The US-written Master Narrative of Cuba is so pervasive that most of us find it almost impossible to imagine what life could be like in "Communist Cuba". There are some fascinating snippets in the news about the fates of the people of New Orleans which was devastated three months ago by Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans, a city of 600,000 people, was devastated because safety precautions which were known to be necessary were never taken. The levees (dikes) which should have prevented most of the storm surge failed and thousands of people were left homeless and jobless. The dikes should have been strengthened years ago.

Further, the emergency management systems failed, mostly because of incompetence and malign neglect. The result is that most of the hurricane refugees are still scattered to the four winds, some as far away as Alaska, and the culture of the most cosmopolitan city in the US has been scattered with them.

One harrowing story in the December 8 New York Times (NYT) tells of Tracy Jackson and Jerel Brown and their four young children who "share a twin bed and thin mattress on the floor [in] the 14th place they have laid their heads since Hurricane Katrina struck just over 14 weeks ago."

As the NYT says: "The immediate aftermath of the hurricane exposed the deep divide between New Orleans's haves and have-nots, as middle-class families rushed to hotels while the poorest of the poor suffered in the squalor of the Superdome.

"The chasm remains, more than three months later. the Jackson-Browns, who are not married and lack high school diplomas, credit cards, even driver's licenses, are among the legions of desperately destitute still lost and in limbo."

Three days later, the NYT said in an editorial: "We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum.

"We said this wouldn't happen. President Bush said it wouldn't happen. He stood in Jackson Square and said, "There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans". But it has been over three months since Hurricane Katrina struck and the city is in complete shambles." (NYT Dec 11).

If a civilisation is to be judged by the care it takes of its most helpless, it may be instructive to compare the situation in Cuba. Although Cuba has been visited by many more and more violent hurricanes than the US, fewer than two dozen Cubans have been lost to hurricanes in the last five years.

In Cuba, the entire country is organised to protect and preserve life and community. The neighbourhood Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDR) are in fact organisations for community preservation. Every Cuban knows what to do and where to go and the CDRs make sure that no one is left behind, neither man, woman, child, nor domestic pet nor farm animal.

Cuba is even poorer than Jamaica in the IFIs' economic estimation. That the Cubans can do better than the United States at protecting their people is an amazing and perhaps incendiary fact. As you can see, I have refrained from commenting on these facts. Nevertheless, I am certain that merely revealing them is likely to cause me no end of trouble.


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