February 2008

I posted a couple of quotations reacting to Bush’s visit to Africa over at the African Loft. CareTaker added a video of protests in Tanzania that included the sign above.

The Strategist tagged me with the 123 blogger meme. The rules are pretty simple:

  • look up page 123 in the nearest book around you;
  • find the fifth sentence;
  • post the three sentences that follow; and
  • tag five people.

I had two books within equidistant easy reach when I read the post. I checked Poisoned Wells, but page 123 was about what happened to political opposition in Equatorial Guinea, and I did not wish to dwell on it. So here are 3 sentences from page 123 of Blood and Oil, not exactly good news, but worth noting:

But to stay productive, they will need investment, and lots of it. Massive amounts of capital are also the key to exploiting new and undeveloped reserves. According to a recent study by the International Energy Agency, the world community will need to invest $3 trillion over the next thirty years to raise global oil production to a level adequate to meet worldwide demand in 2030.

I’m not going to tag anyone, some of my friends might take it amiss. If you read this, and want to give it a go, please do, consider yourself tagged. It is an entertaining diversion.

MAS peasants arrive in La Paz after 190km march in 2005
Picture: Indymedia Bolivia

When the proponents of AFRICOM talk about stability operations, one can look at Bolivia and Venezuela to see examples of how these operations work. With AFRICOM, USAID will be subsumed under the Department of Defense. In Bolivia USAID is using taxpayer money to destabilize the Bolivian government. AFRICOM intends increased use of mercenaries by US and corporate employers. In Venezuela US and Columbian mercenaries are contracted by large landowners, business owners, and other elites to control local populations and destabilize the central government. Much of the funding for the mercenaries comes from drug dealing. Many of the mercenaries come from AUC, a right wing terrorist organization from Columbia.

Undermining Bolivia by Benjamin Dangl:

Declassified documents and interviews on the ground in Bolivia prove that the Bush Administration is using U.S. taxpayers’ money to undermine the Morales government and coopt the country’s dynamic social movements—just as it has tried to do recently in Venezuela and traditionally throughout Latin America.

Much of that money is going through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
. . .

Morales won the presidency in December 2005 with 54 percent of the vote, but five regional governments went to rightwing politicians. After Morales’s victory, USAID, through its Office of Transition Initiatives, decided “to provide support to fledgling regional governments,” USAID documents reveal.

Throughout 2006, four of these five resource-rich lowland departments pushed for greater autonomy from the Morales-led central government, often threatening to secede from the nation. U.S. funds have emboldened them, with the Office of Transition Initiatives funneling “116 grants for $4,451,249 to help departmental governments operate more strategically,” the documents state.
. . .
“The U.S. Embassy is helping this opposition,” agrees Raul Prada, who works for Morales’s party. __ . . . “USAID is in Santa Cruz and other departments to help fund and strengthen the infrastructure of the rightwing governors.”

USAID has funded the regional right wing governors, allowing them to oppose democratic distribution of resources, giving them more political strength and clout to defy the central government. It has undermined youth movements, and other local political activities.

“USAID always took advantage of the poverty of the people,” Mamani says. “They even put up USAID flags in areas alongside the Bolivian flag and the wiphala.”

In the one demonstration project USAID invited Mr. Dangl to view, workers would not give their names, and said they would be beaten if they told the truth. And Fulbright scholars are being asked to report political information to the US embassy, in violation of Fulbright guidelines.

And this week from the Washington Post:

President Evo Morales declared a U.S. Embassy security officer to be an “undesirable person” on Monday after reports that the officer asked an American scholar and 30 Peace Corps volunteers to pass along information about Cubans and Venezuelans working in Bolivia
. . .
Fulbright scholar Alex van Schaick told The Associated Press that Cooper, the embassy’s assistant regional security officer, asked him to pass along the names and addresses of any Venezuelan and Cuban workers he might encounter in the country. “We know they’re out there, we just want to keep tabs on them,” Schaick quoted Cooper as telling him on Nov. 5.
ABC News reported that Cooper made a similar request to 30 newly arrived Peace Corps volunteers on July 29

The US embassy came out with the usual, why we would never consider doing such a thing, we only do good. They also made the following laughable statement:

Peace Corps volunteers had been mistakenly given a security briefing meant only for embassy staff, asking them to report “suspicious activities.”

In Venezuela:

Azzellini (Caracas-based German Political Scientist Darío Azzellini, author of a study of Columbian paramilitary activity titled The Business of War) reported that paramilitary operations are carried out by mercenaries from the U.S. and Latin America who are recruited by private military companies but pose as civilian employees. Beyond government oversight, they are contracted by large landowners, business owners, and other elites to control local populations.

A principal source of paramilitary income is their control of 100% of Colombian heroine exports and 70% of Colombian cocaine exports, Azzellini claimed. In Colombia, giant drug cartels manage large quantities of the drugs, but in Venezuela paramilitaries deal smaller amounts in local communities to increase their leverage within the populations they are contracted to control. Chavez and Azzellini publicized this “open secret” at a time of heated opposition accusations that Chávez does not sufficiently cooperate in combating drug trafficking through Venezuelan territory.

Azzellini explained that the groups now in Venezuela are descendents of the United Self-defense of Colombia (AUC), a brutal paramilitary force formed in the 1980s by Colombian elites to assume the dirty work of the government, which was seeking to improve its dismal international human rights reputation. While the AUC tactic of “total terror” has been used in Colombian cities such as Medellín, paramilitaries now in Venezuela leverage local economic and political power more than sheer violence, according to Azzellini.

Nonetheless, paramilitaries in Venezuela are known for “social cleansing,” or the hired killing of local community members, says the Ezequiel Zamora National Farmers’ Front (FNCEZ), an organization that defends the rights of rural communities. Since an agrarian reform law favorable to rural workers was passed by the Chávez administration in 2001, paramilitaries have murdered 190 rural community members who dared to stand up to the owners of plantations, milk factories, and mines.

The most recent killings were last month, when Municipal Legislator Freddy Ascaño and Community Council Federation President Alfredo Montiel were executed by paramilitaries in their municipality of Tucaní, south of Lake Maracaibo in western Venezuela, the local population reported

I don’t generally write about issues in Latin America. But the way the US deals with Latin America, historically, and especially under the Bush administration, has many parallels and lessons for African countries.

AFRICOM brags about engaging in stability operations and nation building.
Nation building and stability operations mean:

  1. Destabilize the current government (unless it is already a compliant or puppet government, in which case, undermine the opposition).
  2. Call opponents terrorists.
  3. Stabilize, engage in “nation building”, by supporting or installing a government that will follow US corporate bidding, rather than democratic principles.

This is imperialism.
“Stability” and “nation building” follow a Bush pattern of naming things the opposite of what they are and what they do.

Africa has already experienced some of these “stability operations”, in Somalia, destroying the only functioning government in 15 years, and creating an overwhelming humanitarian crisis, and in the Kenya election fiasco, being the most recent and dramatic. There are ongoing “stability operations” in other places in Africa and around the world.

Mercenaries, military contractors in Iraq rape their colleagues, as reported in the New York Times, and by ABC News. If the women who are raped complain, they get fired. The perpetrators of the assaults and rapes face no penalties. No law applies to them, and the employment contracts force employees who have been raped into secret arbitration, with an arbitrator picked by the company, no law, no justice.

If mercenaries are doing this to colleagues who share the same citizenship, and can get away with it, how do you suppose they will treat the citizens of African countries when they operate in Africa? Under AFRICOM, both the Department of Defense and the Department of State employ military contractors in Africa, and both have indicated they plan to employ more. Mercenary corporations in Africa have already been implicated in physical abuse, sexual slavery, paedophilia, and human traffiking.

You can read my article: The Rising Mercenary Industry and AFRICOM over at the African Loft.

The US State Department has issued AFRICAP Program Recompete:

The Department of State, Bureau of African Affairs now seeks sources for the recompete of the AFRICAP program contract. The program encompasses logistics support, construction, military training and advising, maritime security capacity building, equipment procurement, operational deployment for peacekeeping troops, aerial surveillance and conference facilitation. Potential contractors must possess a broad range of functional regional expertise and logistics support capabilities. The intent is to have contractors on call to undertake a wide range of diverse projects, including setting up operational bases to support peacekeeping operations in hostile environments, military training and to providing a range of technical assistance and equipment for African militaries and peace support operations. These tasks will be implemented in countries throughout the African continent, as designated by the DOS, and in conjunction with specific DOS programs and policies.

The part in bold means military confrontations, fighting. The budget estimate is a billion dollars over 5 years. This is another example of the State Department becoming an arm of the Department of Defense. If DoS is subsumed under DoD, where can genuine diplomacy come from? This is very bad news for African countries. The big danger on the ground from AFRICOM is more likely to come from the military and security contractors, rather than US soldiers and sailors. Over at Moon of Alabama, Bernhard has a good writeup and followup discussion about the import of this.

I just came across a harvest of information, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Tracking the positive and negative impacts of over 4000 companies worldwide. If you put a search query in the search box on the left, for example ‘angola diamonds’, you can discover a lot of documentation. Many of the linked articles will be in MicroSoft Word. h/t to Sokari for the link.

And Human Security Gateway links a Database of Researchers on International Private Security.

Not much time to write this week, I hope to be back with more soon, and to look at some of these in a bit more depth.

Blackwater mercenary in New Orleans

Chatham House held a discussion of private military and security companies in January. You can read the report in pdf form here: Chatham House International Law Discussion Group: Private Military and Security Companies – PDF.

And the Miskolc Journal of International Law, from Miskolc University in Hungary, just published this article:

Károly VÉGH: ‘Warriors for Hire?’ – Private military contractors and the international law of armed conflicts _
the article in pdf format

These articles discuss the legal definition of mercenaries, the inadequacies of the definition, and related legal issues.

You can read my article on mercenaries in Africa over at the African Loft: The Rising Mercenary Industry and AFRICOM.


The vigilante country club

A friend sent this earlier from the AlterNet: FBI Deputizes Private Contractors With Extraordinary Powers, Including ‘Shoot to Kill’.

Today, more than 23,000 representatives of private industry are working quietly with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The members of this rapidly growing group, called InfraGard, receive secret warnings of terrorist threats before the public does — and, at least on one occasion, before elected officials. In return, they provide information to the government . . .
. . .
InfraGard is not readily accessible to the general public. Its communications with the FBI and Homeland Security are beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act under the “trade secrets” exemption, its website says. And any conversation with the public or the media is supposed to be carefully rehearsed.
. . .
One business owner in the United States tells me that InfraGard members are being advised on how to prepare for a martial law situation — and what their role might be.
. . .

“The meeting started off innocuously enough, with the speakers talking about corporate espionage,” he says. “From there, it just progressed. All of a sudden we were knee deep in what was expected of us when martial law is declared. We were expected to share all our resources, but in return we’d be given specific benefits.” These included, he says, the ability to travel in restricted areas and to get people out. But that’s not all.

Then they said when — not if — martial law is declared, it was our responsibility to protect our portion of the infrastructure, and if we had to use deadly force to protect it, we couldn’t be prosecuted,” he says.

This sounds like the Bush administration is putting together a cadre of people who see themselves as privileged insiders, with a duty to spy on, and if necessary, kill, their fellow citizens. They don’t have the training, discipline, structure, or mission of police or soldiers. A group like this can be easily manipulated if they think they are protecting their country. There is no oversight or protection in place to control the kind and quality of information they receive. And no accountability or protection regarding the information they provide. A bunch of people who think they are responsible for guarding the country, who are hopped up on patriotic fervor and fear, thinking they have the right to kill people who frighten them, is something no country needs.

This looks like a country club of vigilantes, using the country club model for membership. You have to be recommended by a member in order to “join”, and are then vetted. This means that there will be an ideological similarity among the members. They are also more likely to look like each other, and less likely to look like a representative cross section of the US population. Open and inclusive are not words that describe this vigilante country club arm of government. How will they decide who looks dangerous?

The claim that Its communications with the FBI and Homeland Security are beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act under the “trade secrets” exemption should send a chill down the spine of anyone who loves the United States and values the US Constitution. This extra judicial, extra constitutional privatized spying and law enforcement takes the US another step down the road to the privatized model of government found in Congo Brazzaville.

« Previous PageNext Page »