Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 3, Number 27 August 10 - 16, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
Ripe for Colonizing?
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1821 a group of freed American slaves retraced the steps of their forebears to
West Africa to start a new country. At first the Africans didn't want to turn
over a huge hunk of land to the American blacks, but when a U.S. naval officer
accompanying the group ordered the Africans at gunpoint to knock it off, they
agreed to give it up for baubles and biscuits worth $300. The country of Liberia
emigrating blacks proceeded to organize a society around the only social
structure they had experienced, that of the antebellum South. So just like the
Southern whites, they set up plantations, adopted the formal dress of Southern
gentry, joined the Masons, sipped bourbon on the verandas, and sent their kids
abroad to school. Liberia's main city, Monrovia, is named after President
Monroe. As for the Africans who worked the plantations, the transplanted former
American slaves called them "aborigines."
is an admittedly thumbnail sketch of what President Bush last week referred to
as Liberia's "unique history," which he said had created "a
certain sense of expectations" about the U.S. getting involved in trying to
stabilize it. During the 2000 election Bush came out against so-called nation
building, but last week his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said
the president thinks the stability of West Africa is "important" to
our interests. Last week Rice told reporters Bush felt it necessary to
"bring about reconciliation" between Africa and America due to their
odd ties, i.e., slavery, which she has termed America's "birth
more than a century, the bizarre experiment of Liberia, described in animated
detail by David Lamb in his book The Africans, was held up as a model of
stability--a republic where elected officials could actually live out their
lives peacefully and die natural deaths. Through the cloned American class
structure, Liberia's natural resources, such as timber and diamonds, were
thoroughly exploited, and it became home to the largest rubber plantation in the
world, owned by Firestone. During the Cold War, Liberia became a sort of Fire
Base Charlie for the U.S. in Africa, an HQ for communications and home to squads
of CIA agents. President William Tubman lived out his life and died peacefully
in July 1971. He was succeeded by William Tolbert, who ran a more or less OK
government. But all good things sooner or later come to an end, and one night in
April 1980, as Tolbert slept in his presidential bed, one of the
"aborigines," a young army sergeant called Samuel Doe, crept onto the
presidential grounds, climbed the wall, and entering the president's bedroom,
gouged out one of his eyes, and hacked him to death. Soon Doe's followers were
rounding up the aristocratic heirs of Liberia's founders, subjecting them to
humiliating show trials, and finally carting them down to the beach, where, in a
festive atmosphere, they were all shot. Doe was subsequently murdered in 1990 by
his opponents. The army that stormed Doe's palace wore shower caps, to protect
them from the rain, and recently looted wedding dresses, while a rival faction
wore hairpieces taken from women's wig stores. What was going on here is
the '70s, a Liberian named Charles Taylor attended Bentley College in
Massachusetts, and became active in a Liberian-American association. After
college, he returned home and took a job in Doe's government. In that capacity
he reportedly exposed wrongdoings by Doe but also discovered that Doe was out to
get him and returned to the U.S. Here, Taylor was arrested on the basis of Doe's
claim that he had embezzled funds. At the time, Taylor's attorney was New York
activist Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general. Clark told the Voice
Monday that to the best of his recollection, Doe's embezzlement charges didn't
amount to anything. Clark's defense focused not on the merits of the charges but
on fighting extradition, arguing that Taylor would be killed if he were turned
over to Doe. Amid all this, Taylor escaped from the Plymouth County House of
Corrections in Massachusetts. "It's not clear what happened," Clark
said. "It seemed like it wasn't something Taylor organized. Some people
were going to try to get out, and he went with them."
disappeared into Western Europe and then turned up in Africa, becoming a
powerful warlord in Liberia, helping to overthrow Doe and ultimately capturing
most of the country before winning the presidency in 1997. Under his rule,
Liberia has been even more anarchic and violent.
exhaustive UN probe, which in 2000 produced UN Panel of Experts Report on
Diamonds and Arms in Sierra Leone, spells out how Taylor became a player in the
violent civil war in Liberia's neighbor. He arranged financing and military
training for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the rebel movement in Sierra
Leone, thereby making himself a key cog in the world diamond business.
of Sierra Leone diamonds passed directly to Taylor, according to the UN report,
and Liberia became the brokerage where millions of dollars' worth of what became
known as "blood diamonds" were traded for military hardware, mostly
light weapons, to supply the RUF.
press time, Taylor had agreed, under pressure from the U.S. and others, to leave
Liberia, but the U.S.'s policy objectives require a more stable government in
Liberia anyway. In the first place, with the war on terror replacing the Cold
War, Liberia could serve as a listening post and operations center for combating
Al Qaeda and other militant groups in Africa.
is important because West Africa might well emerge as a major supplier to the
U.S. of oil--and especially natural gas. An increased supply of natural gas is a
cardinal part of Bush's energy program. That in turn would mean carrying frozen
natural gas across the ocean on special liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers and
building ports and processing stations. This is a highly controversial venture
because an LNG explosion, either accidental or deliberate, would be devastating.
sort of regular LNG tanker operations across the Atlantic from West Africa to
the East Coast inevitably would be accompanied by vastly increased military
operations in the sea and air to protect the fuel from terrorists' attacks.
Bush's foray into Africa carries meaning for his re-election campaign. The
religious right is taking credit for getting the president into Africa.
Moreover, for 20 years the GOP right wing has drooled over the idea of breaking
the Democratic Party's grip on the black vote. Despite all his talk, Clinton did
little for Africa, and indeed had to apologize for not acting in the Rwanda
disaster. Should Bush actually get seriously involved in combating AIDS and
poverty, and if he succeeds in stabilizing West Africa, he may at long last
begin the process of pulling black votes from the Democrats.
reporting: Phoebe St John and Joanna Khenkine
July 9, 2003
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