Wednesday, May 23, 2007

How Messed Up Is This?

I've recently come across the surprising statistic that about 71% of the population of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa is suffering from malnutrition. Almost all of the other nations in Africa that are marked as having malnutrition are around 35% - still highly tragic numbers, but not near the unbelievable rate in DR Congo[1]. This is where a lot of the skeletal children you see pictures of come from.

But that's not the messed up part. The messed up part is who was behind it...

I decided to read up on the history of DR Congo to see what in the world happened to cause their unique situation. What I found began around 1960, during the height of the cold war. At that time, the Congo was controlled by Belgium, as it had been since 1908. This was a remnant of the history of the colonial empires, whereby almost all of Africa had been sliced up by different European nations (you'll recall that apartheid South Africa was controlled by the British, for example, and that British colonialism was also at the root of the beginnings of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict after they closed up shop and left abruptly). During WWII the United States got the uranium it needed for its nuclear bombs from the Belgian Congo, which was rich in the stuff.

The Belgians gave no political power to the Congolese people. The educated people there eventually started a campaign to end the inequality. Following some riots, the Congolese won legalization for their own political parties in 1959. In May 1960 they elected a President and a Prime Minister, and won independence by the end of June. In 1962, Belgium also granted neighboring Rwanda self-government, which it also controlled - thus leading to intense racial conflict between the native Hutu and Tutsis, after an abusive majority came to power.

Back in Congo, however, two provinces didn't like the situation and struggled to secede. In that disorder, a dispute broke out between the President and the Prime Minister. Now, the Prime Minister had previously appointed a man named Mobutu as chief of staff of the new Congo army. By 1965 Mobutu had garnered enough support within the army to take advantage of the leadership crisis and mount a coup against the democratically elected leaders. The President was overthrown and the Prime Minister assassinated. Mobutu renamed the nation Zaire, erected a one-party dictatorship with himself as Head of State and "father of the nation", and was accused of many human rights abuses and corruptions.

Mobutu conducted this military coup against that democracy with the financial backing of the United States (CIA) and Belgium.

As it was, Mobutu was against communism and leftist ideas. He would therefore allow U.S. companies to export the natural resources of Zaire without worrying about environmental, labor, or other regulations. Belgium would also retain mining rights for copper and diamonds.

Now we skip ahead to the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The U.S. decides that Mobutu is no longer a necessary ally and relations cool. Without that backing, Mobutu's opponents inside Zaire begin to step up demands for reform. Mobutu conducted a lot of 'fake reforms' supposedly to be democratic, but were more cosmetic than anything else. Finally in 1997 a rebellion forced Mobutu to flee Zaire, which was renamed back to the DR Congo[2].

Since 1994, DR Congo has been waylaid by ethic strife and civil war, with its society virtually collapsed. There was also the genocide in neighboring Rwanda, which has resulted in a massive inflow of refugees. The current president, Joseph Kabila, in 2006 became the first Congolese President to be democratically elected by universal direct suffrage (meaning, everyone can vote regardless of race, gender, etc). I read he's trying to implement reforms to combat the malnutrition crisis but we'll see. Kabila is also working with the World Bank in an effort to improve the economy. But here's at least one point of view on the World Bank (from Wikipedia)...

"Corporatocracy is also used by John Perkins in his 2004 book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man to describe a system of governance controlled by "big corporations, international banks, and government" (Perkins / Plume paperback edition, 94). Harking back to the "military-industrial complex," Perkins claims the corporatocracy is manifested in the following cycle: the World Bank issues loans to developing nations to pay for large-scale development projects; contracts are then doled out to a handful of American engineering firms; as a result, these countries become ensnared in a net of interest payments and debts they cannot repay. American corporations benefit through increased profits, and the U.S. government benefits through securing its political clout and control over developing countries with vast natural resources. According to Perkins, the majority of people in those countries do not benefit since a large portion of their country's budget goes toward servicing the national debt instead of improving living conditions.[3]"

If this is correct, then it could be that the Congo is still the pawn of the U.S., in an even more subtle scheme.

I'm also actually a supporter of capitalism (although not completely Laissez-faire). However I'm not sure that being opposed to mega-corporate rule is inconsistent with that. It could be that such notions as the international mega-corporation are actually contrary to real capitalism.

Three interesting thoughts:

1) Much of the current problems in the world we are paying for today can be traced back, not only to the cold war and ww2, but to 18-19th Century European colonialism.

2) Was the cold war really about the evil Soviet empire that wanted to invade the U.S. and make us all wait in line for toilet paper? Or was it more about stoking that fear for the sake of expanding opportunities for U.S. corporations?

3) Could it be that as far back as the economic buildup after WW2 which catapulted us to superpower status, we've been a de facto Corporatocracy and didn't even realize it?

4) How much of what goes on today with U.S. international policy is about stoking fear for the sake of serving the interest of our corporate oligarchy? 100% maybe?

I'm not one to use the propaganda tactic of making unsubstantiated claims, about things I really already believe for certain, in the form of questions. The above reflect real questions I'm actually wondering about.

[1] United Nations World Food Program Interactive Map [link]
[2] Wikipedia article on DR Congo [link] (other connected articles also used)
[3] Wikipedia article on Corporatocracy [link]


Blogger Jim VAT said...

You might want to check a little further into your Wiki links:

Corporatocracy: is a neologism coined by proponents of the Global Justice Movement

Global Justice Movement: is the broad globalized social movement opposing what is often known as “corporate globalization” and promoting equal distribution of economic resources.

In other words, you have uncritically posted propaganda from the anarchist/socialist movement whose only contribution to humanity has been around 100 million deaths attributed to global communism. If they had their way, we would be living like the former Soviet Union or Cubans. No thanks.

And further, I suggest a more critical view towards the fictional "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" book and its author. While it makes for a good tale, fiction is all it is.

7:36 PM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

[this is a re-edit from a previous comment with corrections, where I had forgotten the title of a book I had mentioned]

Thanks for the comment Jim. As I mention in the post, in that small section of it I only provide a particular viewpoint in the quote for thought. I don't necessarily subscribe to it. But regardless of the motives of the author of that book, the real question is this: is it true or not that these countries are, "ensnared in a net of interest payments and debts they cannot repay. American corporations benefit through increased profits, and the U.S. government benefits through securing its political clout and control over developing countries with vast natural resources"? This is the essence of the matter. Addressing the facts (or inaccuracies) of what's being discussed would be a more fruitful approach than worrying about associations with other groups' positions or their motivations.

While I'm opposed to communism, regardless of who coined a word, 'Corporatocracy' would be accurate to describe a system where major corporations hold power over a government and people (even if it is 'de facto' power). I'm sure it was thought of by many people. The essential questions are:

- Is that indeed the case about international corporations?
- Is the CIA's involvement in supporting overthrows of democracies and helping dictators true?
- Is the real impetus behind that U.S. security or corporate interests (or perhaps those in charge view the two as one in the same)?

Whether or not some subject matter I'm talking about bears some resemblance to that discussed by this group or that group is of no concern to me. I don't argue from the base of a flag (national, economic, social, political, or religious), I'm interested in objective facts and no questions are off limit. :)

As for 'uncritically posted', I have posted and then asked 'is this true?' that's a critical question. Furthermore, my last paragraph makes it clear these are not leading or rhetorical questions - in other words, I'm not stating these things as fact and simply putting them in the form of a question to make a point - it's a real, genuine, question of mine. In other words, the posting of these questions are part of the 'checking a little further'. :)

5:06 AM  
Blogger Jim VAT said...

The fact of the matter is that through capitalistic globalization, led by the United States, Japan and Europe, more people have been pulled out of dire poverty and oppression in the last 50 years than under any other economic system has ever done. Sure, international institutions lent them money and some could not repay it. But this is a case of forgetting the "hits" and pointing out the "misses". The hits are S. Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and many others such as Mexico who have been bailed out by international institutions in their time of need. You recall the currency crisis of 1998? Who bailed out South Korea and Thailand as well as help them implement needed economic reforms? The IMF and World Bank. Remember the umpteen times the IMF and World Bank assisted currency crises in Mexico. Had those actions not been taken, imagine the suffering that would have occurred. And along the way, part of the loans was making economies function better. We can discussion the strings that are attached to IMF loans and the long-term benefits that they provide to the world.

The misses are indeed mostly in Africa. Africa has wasted the opportunity to advance the livelihood of its people and chosen instead the path of oppression, corruption and poverty. They have chosen that by failing to throw out its tribal identities for the rule of law.

To blame the social and tribal strife on Western nations lending them money is not logically supportable. That would be like blaming banks in the current "sub-prime" crisis without looking at the recipient's both accepting the terms of the deal and then failing to fulfill its obligations.

International corporations have definitely used the government to get some things they want. Corporations do use the government as a method to forward their objectives. However, the host countries have also turned around and nationalized the industries they wanted. See what is happening in Venezuela right now. In the "Hit Man World", ExxonMobil and ChevronPhillips wouldn't be in arbitration right now with Chavez's henchmen, now would they? The day when the CIA could overthrow governments for economic interests is gone.

What is also important to understand is that governments also use international corporations to forward their interests. Who do you think stopped a war between Pakistan and India? IBM. Yep. They basically went to the Indian government and said knock off the crap because you are endangering your economic growth. Is that a good thing or bad thing?

The thing that is also important to understand about assertions like these is to look where they come from and the context in which they arise. When communism failed as an economic system and those that supported it were faced with that reality, they just did not convert. Most just re-branded themselves into anti-globalists or radical-environmentalists who still think Communism is a viable economic system. They push their agenda through propaganda such as this.

Whenever I see propaganda like this, I think of the 100 million people that perished by the followers of this ideology. I am duty-bound to expose it for it what it is. I have done so and now I will leave.

3:51 PM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Thanks again for the comments Jim. You have tackled much larger issues in your post than the original article was about. While we agree in the harm of communism, I think you're committing the 'association fallacy' by assuming that if I ask a question or reach a conclusion that is similar to, or even the same as, one of the many conclusions of communist organizations, I must therefore share the rest of their conclusions. This is the same fallacy that branded atheists as communists.

I can appreciate your urge to 'expose communist propaganda' but I can assure you, yes, I am fully aware that some of these things are also said and asked by communists for reasons beyond my own. I have not, for example, blamed all strife in Africa on 'Western nations'. Still the question remains, what role did the CIA play in the Congo during those years?

You mention the CIA no longer doing these sorts of things. Chavez committed theft by nationalizing the industries you spoke of, is probably in office through a fixed election, and given today's news item about his removal of term limits, it seems he's also well on his way to becoming a life-long dictator. However, I'm not sure where or how one could conclude that 'the days of the CIA overthrowing governments for economic interests is gone'. In fact, as recently as 2002, White House officials took part in a coup to oust Chavez and put the president of a national business federation in his place. The effort failed and was reversed 48 hours later due to a popular uprising. I would hope 'those days are over' but really have no idea. For example, it has also been claimed that the CIA played a role in the 2004 ousting of Haitian President Aristide, by Aristide himself and backed up by officers and officials in Haiti and the U.S. While the White House denies it, I'm suspicious and think it's reasonable to be.

I don't really have any positions or questions regarding global capitalism or the IMF - those are issues between you and the commies I guess. Good luck with that :)

7:58 PM  

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