Τρίτη, 10 Αυγούστου 2010
"Blood Diamonds," Imperialist Domination and the International Courts at The Hague
“Blood Diamonds,” Imperialist Domination and the International Courts at The Hague
Charles Taylor trial ignores who really controls the world trade in “precious metals”
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
If the viewers and readers of the corporate media only had access to the recent coverage of the testimony of British model Naomi Campbell at the Special War Crimes Court on Sierra Leone proceedings at The Hague in the Netherlands, they would not have a clue as to the background of the current war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Taylor took control in Liberia following a 1997 election that he won overwhelmingly in the aftermath of a tumultuous civil war which lasted for seven years.
Taylor survived another seven years amid attempts by armed opposition groups to topple his regime. In 2003, after the intervention of United States troops in Liberia, Taylor was convinced to go into exile in Nigeria. He was later handed over to the International Court in the Netherlands for prosecution where he has remained over the last six years.
Naomi Campbell was forced into testifying before the ongoing tribunal charging Taylor with utilizing diamonds to fund the rebel group in Sierra Leone that was known as the “Revolutionary United Front.” Yet the questions asked of her and the content of her testimony revealed nothing about the origins of the political crises in Liberia and Sierra Leone or the historic role the United States, Britain and other imperialist states in the utilization of their influence over the marketing and distribution of diamonds.
Campbell’s testimony centered around whether or not she had received diamonds from Charles Taylor during a visit to the Republic of South Africa in 1997 to support the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. She indicated under questioning that she was handed a pouch by someone other than Taylor saying it was “A gift for you.” (BBC, August, 5, 2010)
She then went on to say that “I saw a few stones in there. They were very small, dirty looking stones.”
Campbell would later say to the court that she had turned over the bag to Jeremy Ractliffe who worked for the Mandela Children’s Fund charitable organization. She told the ICC that she had no interests in keeping the uncut stones and that perhaps Ractliffe could use them for the charity.
Apparently nothing was done with the diamonds. When the testimony of Campbell was reported in the media, Ractliffe was visited by the South African police and the stones were still in his possession after 13 years. The police authenticated the stones as diamonds and are conducting their own investigation.
This sensational angle to reporting the trial of Charles Taylor conceals what was really at stake during the Liberian civil war. The then South African President Nelson Mandela was involved in negotiating a settlement to the Liberian conflict during the late 1990s resulting in internationally-supervised elections that brought Taylor to power and gained him recognition by both the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity (later transformed to the African Union).
Neither Charles Taylor nor Naomi Campbell have ever had any influence in the international diamond trade. Liberia is a major producer of diamonds but the mining and marketing of these gems are not controlled by the government or anyone else on the African continent. This lack of control of the national economies of both Sierra Leone and Liberia can be traced back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries when Britain and the United States established these areas as colonial outposts under the guise of providing a homeland for former enslaved Africans in the British and U.S.-controlled territories in the western hemisphere.
Origins of British and U.S. Domination Over Sierra Leone and Liberia
In 1772 when Lord Mansfield held that a slave owner could not by force remove Africans from England, opponents of the Atlantic slave trade interpreted this ruling as an act of emancipation for those held captive in the United Kingdom.
Later during the American revolutionary war, when the British colonialists promised Africans who sided with them against the soon to be U.S. ruling class that they would be liberated from slavery when the war ended, many of the formerly enslaved Africans emigrated to England and Nova Scotia in Canada.
The city of London during the 1780s became a growing center of African population groups, some of whom had arrived from the Americas during the post American revolutionary war period. Many British organizations, including religious groups, felt that the solution to the emergence of an unassimilated race in the United Kingdom was to establish a “Christian oriented” settlement in West Africa that would fall under the direct control of British finance capital and influential churches.
Eventually in 1787, approximately 400 Africans departed from England to establish a new society built on land ostensibly purchased from an African monarch in the region now known as Sierra Leone. Soon after this effort was launched, many Africans who had settled in Nova Scotia, and had failed to obtain the “promise land” that the British had offered them to coincide with the emancipation awarded during the revolutionary war, made a decision to repatriate to Sierra Leone.
Thomas Peters, who had formerly been enslaved in the United States, led 1,200 free Africans from Nova Scotia, Canada where they played an instrumental role in the founding of Freetown. Some eight year later, hundreds of Africans from Jamaica who had rebelled against British slavery, commonly referred to as the “Maroons,” also joined the resettled Africans already residing in Freetown.
During the early years the country was ruled by the British-owned Sierra Leone Company. After the British abolished slavery in 1807, the population of repatriates grew to over 70,000 in Sierra Leone. Several years later the experiment in resettlement would begin in neighboring Liberia.
Liberia also grew out of both the willingness on the part of enslaved Africans to return to the land of their ancestors as well as the desire on the part of European settlers in the U.S. to rid the country of free Africans and to establish an outpost for trade in West Africa. The settlements began in 1821 through the American Colonization Society.
In 1847, Liberia was recognized by the United States as an independent republic. Nonetheless, the country would remain under U.S. influence from its founding to the present.
Despite the development of trade in palm oil, sugar, coffee, and molasses, the European colonial powers who controlled the neighboring territories blocked any commerce between Liberia and its bordering nations. Faced with an economic blockade by colonial powers, the Liberian government was forced to accept a 100,000 pound sterling loan from the British at a very unfavorable rate in 1871.
By the early 20th century, Liberia had only received less than one-third of the amount of the loan and was so far in debt that it sought to arrange a bailout. In 1912 a loan of $1.7 million was granted by a consortium headed by J.P. Morgan, the National City Bank, First National Bank of New York and Kuhn Loeb & Co. As a result of this loan, the financial operations of the state of Liberia was for all practical purposes taken over by the United States in conjunction with other partners in the U.S.-led consortium that included Britain, France and Germany.
After the beginning of World War I, the U.S. government appointed a receiver-general that assumed total control of the national treasury of Liberia. Moreover, in 1926, the most significant extension of credit to Liberia took place when Firestone Rubber Corporation of America granted a loan of $5 million which was utilized to pay off the remaining loans to the other financial institutions.
In more recent times, imperialist influence has continued over the Liberian economy through control of the iron ore and diamond industries. The iron ore deposits were estimated during the 1960s to contain one billion tons of resources. The exploitation of these resources has been carried out by a consortium dominated by firms from Germany, France, Italy and Belgium with a substantial portion of the output going to the then powerful Bethlehem Steel Corporation based in the United States.
As it relates to the diamond producing industry, there are several major firms operating inside the country including the largest trader Hatton Diamonds, which is a part of the DeBeers Central Selling Organization. This firm has controlled the diamond market in Liberia for many decades and has run the government’s industry office.
DeBeers was formed by British settler-colonialist Cecil Rhodes in 1870 and taken over in 1926 by the white South African mine owner Ernest Oppenheimer who migrated there from Germany.
One other major player in the Liberian diamond industry is the Antwerp Company based in Belgium. The role of Belgium as a base for the marketing of diamonds can be traced back to the 16th century when Antwerp became a center for the emerging mercantile and capitalist classes.
Hypocrisy of the International Court System and the Need for an Anti-Imperialist Analysis
The control of the diamond industry in Liberia has never been under the control of its people. Of course this fact of history will not be brought into the current trial of Charles Taylor.
Neither will the fact that the United States administration under George Bush played an instrumental role in overthrowing Taylor through the Guinea-based Liberians United for Reconciliation and Development (LURD) rebel group that received arms and training from Washington.
One major criticism of the Taylor trial and other efforts to bring African leaders before the International Criminal Court (ICC)—such as the Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir—is that the court has focused exclusively on leaders from the continent and has ignored the most devastating war crimes committed by the United States ruling class and other western imperialist states.
The occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the ongoing U.S. support for the state of Israel and its occupation over the Palestinians, as well as the imperialist role in the deaths of 4-6 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has not been addressed by the United Nations Special Courts such as the one on Sierra Leone that is prosecuting Taylor or the ICC, which was established through the so-called Rome Statute. It is these crimes committed by western imperialist states that are being covered up in the current trial of Charles Taylor.
Anti-Imperialist forces in the U.S. must recognize that these so-called International Courts are not concerned with ending war crimes since they are ignoring the most heinous acts of aggression committed by the imperialist states. Therefore, despite the role of Charles Taylor, the RUF and other puppet dictators in Africa, the underlying forces that drove their actions can be traced backed to the continued desire on the part of imperialism to dominate the resources and labor of the African continent.