Sunday, July 02, 2006

The New Colonialism

Anti-American Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is stirring up trouble in Africa, amongst like-minded company:

Mr Chavez, whose repeated criticism of America has raised hackles in Washington, called on an African Union summit to cooperate with Latin America in everything from oil production to university education to counter "colonial" meddling in developing nations.

...Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also attending the summit in the Gambian capital Banjul.
Chavez also:

...hailed Iran's right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Everyone knows the peaceful purposes for which Ahmadinejad wants nuclear technology:

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and said the country's establishment was a move by what he called "the oppressor" against the Islamic world.

Speaking to students today in Tehran during a conference entitled "The World Without Zionism," Ahmadinejad also denounced any moves to normalize relations with Israel.
Chavez cited:

...the example of Venezuela and Bolivia (and) urged Africa to seize greater control of its energy resources. He described the low royalty payments made by some foreign oil companies as "robbery".

Africa's abundant natural resources – ranging from precious metals to iron ore and oil – should make it a wealthy continent if it were freed from outside exploitation, Mr Chavez said.
Chavez has reacted typically to his own mismanagement of his country - like Germany in the 1930s and Argentina in the 1980s, he blames outsiders and foments conflict with them as a way of deflecting internal criticism.

Wikipedia notes that Venezuela is one of the five founding members of OPEC and:

The petroleum sector dominates the economy, accounting for roughly a third of Venezuela's GDP, around 80% of export earnings, and more than half of government revenues. The oil sector operates through the government-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), which among other things owns the US-based distributor CITGO, with more than 14,000 retail gasoline outlets in the United States under its brand.

(PDSVA purchased) 50% (of CITGO) in 1986, and the remainder in 1990.
It's the kind of foreign ownership that Chavez rails against, except when it's Venezuela owning big companies in other countries. As of 2004, CITGO's revenues were in excess of $32 billion and in 2005 PDVSA opened its first office in China, and announced plans to nearly triple its fleet of oil tankers, to 58. Yet PDVSA (and Venezuela generally) is in disarray because of Chavez's own poor government:

In December 2002 many of PDVSA's managers and employees (including the CTV trade union federation) led a lockout/strike to persuade Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez to call early elections, and virtually stopped oil production for 2 months. The government fired 19,000 employees and reestablished production with employees loyal to the Chavez government. The International Labour Organization called on the Venezuelan government to launch "an independent investigation into allegations of detention and torture," surrounding this strike. The strike caused substantial macroeconomic damage, pushing unemployment up by 5% to a peak of over 20% in March 2003.
Chavez's grandstanding over Africa's natural resources and his comments that Africa would be wealthy but for outside exploitation belie the fact that he would undoubtedly enjoy 'giving' Africans the opportunity to exploit those resources with the 'assistance' of PDSVA.

And it also conveniently ignores the fact that Africa is not poor because its natural resources are exploited by outsiders. It is poor because the people of Africa are exploited and abused by their own governments and are the victims of endless civil unrest. In Congo, they fight amongst themselves for control of the natural resources:

"We live in fear," confesses Bayoba Biguge, a church leader in Bukavu, an eastern border city of 1 million. Rebel groups fight each other and the government over territory and the mining of diamonds, gold, and coltan (vital for manufacturing electronics). Illegal trade makes the conflict highly profitable. Coltan has sold for as much as $400 per kilogram.
and ordinary Africans pay as infrastructure and lives are destroyed:

The trip to Nyabiondo has mournful moments. "About 240 children were killed in that school," says a guide. The pitiful-looking structure is haunting. Everyone stares in silence and anguish.

The Masisi territory is the last major stop before Nyabiondo. First, a courtesy call on the government-appointed chief administrator, Justin Mukanya Kasombo...

"Masisi is one area where the war left serious consequences," says Kasombo. Thousands were killed; factories were destroyed and farms looted. There used to be 1 million cattle in the area. Today, there are 120. "People are living in misery." Malnutrition kills children. Crime is rampant. "Someone was raped last night." Dignity is lost. "You will find people with no clothes."

... Outside, a teenager with a rusty AK-47 on his shoulder roams the streets. We wonder: How many people has he killed? No one knows. No one dares ask.
Elsewhere in Africa:

Several years ago, I was teaching at an African university when a Christian student asked to talk with me. She had heard that I had been a soldier. Over several hours, she struggled to share her story with me. At a young age, her family had emigrated from an East African country to the West where she was raised and educated. At age 16 she requested to return to her homeland to see relatives and discover her roots.

While visiting, a war broke out between her country and its neighbor. Because she was a legal citizen and had just turned 17, she was conscripted into the army. The young woman saw horrific combat, but one event disturbed her most. While on patrol, her squad captured eight young enemy soldiers. Since no prisoner of war facility existed in the country that could pass the Geneva Convention mandates, she and her squad were ordered to execute the prisoners. The squad leader went to each member of the squad and handed them one bullet with the instruction to either execute one of the prisoners or use it on themselves. This student took her prisoner into the desert where the young man pleaded for his life. They were close in age, and he showed her pictures of his family and his grade reports from school. With great difficulty she shot him, but two years later she told me about her daily memories and nightmares of her action and its victim.
How can a continent support itself even with resources that would make it wealthy if it does this to its children, to its people?

Meanwhile, the hateful Hugo Chavez, blowing in from half a world away, would have them believe everything will be ok if they just hate America.

-- Nick

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