South Asia

Al-Qaeda in Bangladesh?

Several Bangladeshi railway stations have been targeted by a series of small bombs [May 1]. The devices were detonated in the capital, Dhaka, the southeastern port of Chittagong and the northern city of Sylhet, at around 7:30 AM local time…. Read moreAl-Qaeda in Bangladesh?


Iraq: Abu Ayyub al-Masri dead?

Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, is reported to have been killed in an “internal battle” between militants in northern Baghdad, the Iraqi interior ministry has disclosed. United States officials have long speculated about rising tensions between… Read moreIraq: Abu Ayyub al-Masri dead?

Issue #. 133. May 2007

Electronic Journal & Daily Weblog THE RETURN OF PLAN PUEBLA-PANAMA The New Struggle for Central America by Bill Weinberg, WW4 REPORT CONTINENTAL INDIGENOUS SUMMIT IN GUATEMALA by Marc Becker, Upside Down World MINING IN MEXICO: VIOLENCE MADE IN CANADA by… Read moreIssue #. 133. May 2007


Nicaragua Sticks It to Tio Sam —Again!

by Michael I. Niman, Art Voice, Buffalo, NY

For the very first time ever,
When they had a revolution in Nicaragua,
There was no interference from America
Human rights in America
Well the people fought the leader,
And up he flew…
With no Washington bullets what else could he do?

—The Clash, “Washington Bullets,” 1980

In the flash of this moment
You’re the best of what we are—
Don’t let them stop you now— Nicaragua.

—Bruce Cockburn, “Nicaragua,” 1983

The Bush administration just appointed Robert Gates, a man who helped orchestrate an illegal terrorist war against Nicaragua in the 1980s, as our new Secretary of Defense, replacing Donald Rumsfeld. The Nicaraguans, for their part, just returned the president that our dirty little war ousted back to office. And they did this despite direct threats last month from the Bush administration, delivered by a convicted criminal, who went to Nicaragua days before the election and told the Nicaraguan people that if such a victory occurred there’d be hell, all too literally, to pay. It’s not dĂ©jĂ  vu—this is the story of a White House bent on world domination and a little democratic revolution that just won’t go away.

The last time I was in Nicaragua was 1989. Public transportation was crippled by an army of 15,000 US-backed terrorists with a penchant for blowing up or burning buses—sometimes full of passengers. Known as the Contras, they also crippled the nation’s electric system and regularly assassinated elected officials from the ruling democratic-socialist Sandinista party. Downtown Managua, the capital, was in ruins, not from Contra attacks but from an earthquake that had hit 17 years earlier when Nicaragua was a dictatorship ruled by Anastasio Somoza, a brutal US ally. It seems his regime pocketed all the international relief aid and murdered any Nicaraguan who objected to this looting. The Sandinistas, taking power in a 1979 revolution, inherited a bankrupt government and had no money to rebuild the capital. Cows grazed near the ruins of the National Cathedral.

I was a Costa Rican-based journalist at the time, helping lead a liberal guilt-trip tour of Nicaragua that my magazine regularly sponsored as a fund-raiser. Our clients were middle class Americans who came to marvel at a revolution that was gasping its last breath. My most important job was to wake up each morning before dawn and change the day’s money from American dollars into worthless Nicaraguan cordobas. Sometimes I’d do this twice a day as the money lost its value by the hour. The inflation rate was running at 16,000 percent. Nicaragua’s currency was sloppily printed, sometimes with new numbers sporting three or four extra zeros hastily stamped over the old ones. Each time I’d walk away with a shopping bag of cordobas—bills that doubled as toilet paper.

The Sandinista drive for power began in the late 1970s, during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, when the Nicaraguan people rose up to support a decade-old revolutionary struggle that took its name from Augusto CĂ©sar Sandino, the Nicaraguan revolutionary who led an insurgency against the US occupation of his country from 1927 to 1933. Sandino was killed in 1934 but his memory remains very much alive across Latin America, alongside other revered heroes such as Ernesto Che Guevara and SimĂłn BolĂ­var.

The Sandinistas took power in July 1979 after Jimmy Carter, abiding by his stated human rights policy, refused to intercede on behalf of the Somoza dictatorship. The new government established friendly relations with the US and immediately began a crash program of building schools and health clinics. Idealists from around the world flocked to Nicaragua. An army of 225,000 volunteers cut the nation’s illiteracy rate by 50% in six months. Music and hope filled the air.

The celebration was short-lived, however. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States. Using what later proved to be false and fabricated intelligence reports—sound familiar?—Reagan argued that the impoverished Central American country represented a military threat, and hence set out to wage an undeclared war against Nicaragua. The Reagan administration, with the help of the Argentinean military junta, armed, trained and funded the Contras, a mercenary army led by former Nicaraguan National Guardsmen loyal to the ousted dictatorship.

The Contras combined amorality and ruthlessness with a smart strategy: defeat the Sandinistas by turning their country into hell on earth. The problem, as political theorist Noam Chomsky put it in his book, The Managua Lectures, was that Nicaragua posed “the threat of a good example.” If Nicaragua could oust its oppressive, US-backed government and effectively address problems of hunger, health care, education and political oppression, then why couldn’t, say, neighboring Honduras do the same thing? This was the real domino effect Reagan feared in Latin America—the one we’re seeing now.

To defeat the Sandinistas, the Contras had to erase the gains of the revolution. Working in conjunction with the CIA, they targeted schools and health clinics as well as public services and the institutions of democracy. The American Christian peace group Witness for Peace collected evidence of Contras using systematic rape of civilians as a terror tactic, as well as castrating, cutting out the tongues and gouging out the eyes of government supporters. They also destroyed bridges, phone lines, power stations and port facilities. They failed, however, to break the will of the people—who, in an internationally supervised election in 1985, handed a landslide victory to the ruling Sandinistas. Daniel Ortega, leader of the Sandinista junta that took power in 1979, was elected president with two thirds of the popular vote.

Undeterred, the personable, grandfatherly Reagan turned the screws harder, giving more weapons to the Contras and illegally mining Nicaraguan harbors in an attempt to destroy the country’s economy—in defiance of the World Court, which ruled for Nicaragua in 1986, finding the U.S. aggression illegal. Reagan also, despite reports from international governments who observed the vote, unilaterally declared the Nicaraguan election a sham and imposed a devastating economic embargo against Nicaragua. The combined forces of the war, the embargo, the mining of the harbors and terrorist attacks against economic infrastructure led to the total collapse of the Nicaraguan economy, making Nicaragua the second poorest country in the hemisphere after Haiti and spiraling the nation into a hyperinflationary cycle.

When the US Congress finally said enough was enough and outlawed Reagan administration aid to the Contra terrorists, the administration began covertly funding the war, raising cash by selling arms to Iran and, according to a US Senate investigation released in 1989, by helping the Contras smuggle cocaine into the US.

The cocaine angle to the so-called Iran-Contra Affair broke first in the alternative press, then years later in the mainstream press. Put simply, the Reagan administration allowed American inner-city communities to be destroyed by a growing cocaine epidemic and armed Iran—which they also claimed was a terrorist state—in order to fund internationally condemned terrorism against a democratically elected government in a neighboring state, all in contempt of Congress. This was the real Reagan revolution—turning the US into a rogue state. The Reagan administration’s pointman overseeing the whole operation was Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North. Convicted of lying to Congress in the hearings on the scandal 1988, North would have his conviction thrown out on appeal on the grounds that his public testimony compromised his right to a fair trial.

Five other high-ranking officials— former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, former CIA officers Duane Clarridge and Alan Fiers, and former assistant secretary of state Elliot Abrams—were all pardoned for their crimes by George Bush the First as he was leaving office.

In the end, the Contras won. Back in 1989 I was walking through a poor neighborhood in Managua when someone hailed me. Soon a small crowd formed. They all had the same question. Did I think my country would launch an air war? Did I think they’d bomb Managua? It was a friendly, people-to-people discussion. Nobody blamed me. They just thought, as an American, I might have some insight. They were stressed out. More than 50,000 of them died in the Contra war. The rest were tired of queuing up for buses that never came—or having to ride on the roofs of the ones that did. They were tired of having to spend their money the hour they earned it, before it lost all its value. They were tired of worrying about Contras blowing up their kids’ school, maybe with the kids in it.

And they were tired. Just plain tired. A few months after I left Nicaragua they cried uncle and voted the Sandinistas out of office. They voted for promised US aid rather than an embargo and endless war. But significant aid never came. Neither did the reparations the World Court ordered the US to pay. There was money for death, but never for life. We just stopped funding the Contras. After turning Nicaragua into the second-poorest country in the hemisphere, we turned our back on them.

Now let’s fast-forward to the future. Twenty years after Reagan launched the Contra war, classified documents showing the roles of public figures such as the first President Bush were due to be released to the public. That all changed after September 11, 2001, when history itself was classified.

Then the ghosts from the Iran-Contra scandal started to reappear, haunting the new Bush White House. Elliot Abrams, pardoned by Bush Senior for his criminal activity in the Iran-Contra scandal, was appointed by Bush Junior as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on the National Security Council—the folks who wage covert wars.

Then there was John Negroponte, who, as ambassador to Honduras under Reagan, was the White House’s point man in the region, ultimately supervising the Contra terrorism in Nicaragua. George W. Bush appointed him as Director of National Intelligence, ostensibly managing our current dirty wars wherever they may be.

During the Contra war, the Reagan administration appointed Cuban-born Otto Reich to oversee, in conjunction with Oliver North, the White House’s propaganda operation to demonize the Sandinistas while painting the Contra terrorists as “freedom fighters.” In 2002, George W. Bush appointed Reich as Special Envoy to the Western Hemisphere for the Secretary of State. Iran-Contra felon John Poindexter (his conviction overturned on immunity grounds) was appointed by George W. Bush as Director of the Information Awareness Office, where he was supposed to oversee spying on law-abiding Americans. While Reich and Poindexter no longer hold these positions, they are still Bush administration insiders, essentially treating the White House as their own personal halfway house. North went on to become a Fox News analyst. Negroponte became a US Deputy Secretary of State.

Fast-forward to November 2006. It seems there has been another bit of a revolution in Nicaragua—this time an electoral revolution. Friendship with the US got the Nicaraguans nothing except the right to work in sweatshops “assembling” our clothing. Perhaps there really is nothing to fear but fear itself. Or perhaps they remember the dignity they enjoyed for that brief decade when they served as a beacon of hope to the world. Or perhaps it really is the threat of a good example—this time the example of Venezuela—that did it.

Not even the sickeningly gross spectacle of a pre-election visit from Oliver North last month deterred them. Yes, North, a major architect of the Contra war, who is to Nicaragua what Osama bin Laden is the US, told the Nicaraguans that a Sandinista victory would be “the end of Nicaragua.” Given his history of working with mercenaries coordinating barbaric terrorist attacks against that country, North is not to be taken lightly. Undeterred by threats—perhaps fearless because they have nothing left to lose—Nicaragua, two days before the US election that “thumped” the Republicans, once again elected Sandinista Daniel Ortega as president.

And a week later George W. Bush appointed one more Iran-Contra criminal to his cabinet. This time it’s the former Iran-Contra era-Deputy Director of the CIA, Robert Gates, our new Secretary of Defense. Perhaps the plan is to quickly chop Iraq into a few small, weak, feuding countries locked in fratricide, and return our focus to Latin America to stop the dominos of democracy before they sweep right up to Washington, DC.


This article first appeared Nov. 16, 2006 in Art Voice, Buffalo, NY

Dr. Michael I. Niman’s previous columns are archived at

From our weblog:

U.S. threatens to tighten noose on Nicaragua
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 7, 2006

Oliver North meddles in Nicaragua —again!
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 25, 2006

Robert Gates: another ex-Saddam symp takes helm at Pentagon
WW4 REPORT, Nov. 9, 2006

Negroponte to Sudan: no ultimatum on Darfur
WW4 REPORT, April 12, 2007

From our archive:

Contragate criminals back on top
WW4 REPORT #63, Dec. 9, 2002


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, May 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Human Rights and the Naxalite Insurgency

by Suhas Chakma,

With the March 15 slaughter of fifty-five policemen by Naxalites (or Maoists) in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, India’s Maoist insurgency once again entered the international limelight. The local state government launched an operation involving 8,000 security personnel, indelicately described as an “act of revenge.” As the conflict escalates, human rights monitoring becomes next to impossible. The ongoing counter-Maoist offensive remains largely opaque to scrutiny, with egregious violations on both sides.

In suppressing insurgencies, national and local authorities have developed a reputation for committing unlawful killings in so-called “fake encounters”–incidents fabricated by security forces in order to justify the murder of dissidents. The guidelines of the National Human Rights Commission of India on fake encounters were developed after incidents with Naxalites in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. On July 23, 2006, eight Maoist rebels, including Gurra Chennaiah, were shot dead by state police in an alleged encounter in the Nallamala forests in Prakasam district. The opposition Telugu Desam Party claimed state malfeasance, joining a groundswell of popular and intellectual protest. Despite the public outcry, the state Home Minister K. Jana Reddy rejected the demand for a judicial probe into the killings.

Maoist brutality

Government excesses are matched–if not exceeded–by the Maoists. Their targets are no longer restricted to the “petty bourgeoisie,” police informers or “class enemies.” The chilling massacres of 27 Adivasis (“tribal” people) at Darbhaguda on Feb. 28, 2006, of 13 Adivasis at Monikonta on April 25, 2006 and 31 Adivasis at Errabore on July 17, 2006 evidence the widening reach of Maoist violence. Hostages released after the Monikonta massacre told the Asian Centre for Human Rights that the Naxalites “selected” 13 hostages, tied their hands from behind and blindfolded them, before stabbing the bound captives repeatedly and slitting their throats in front of other hostages.

With increasingly brazen rebel attacks, it is difficult to foresee a negotiated solution to the insurgency. The ultimate aim of the Naxalites is to win power in Delhi, like their counterparts sought power in Nepal. India is not a weak state like Nepal, where the Maoists took advantage of the absence of governmental machinery and expanded their base of support to the point that they became a determinant factor in the democratic struggle against King Gyanendra. The Naxalites certainly speak the language of the rights of the poor and the “tribals,” a language that many Adivasis and Dalits can relate to, but their true interests are not Adivasi- or Dalit-centric. The Adivasis and the Dalits are pawns, both perpetrators and victims in the Maoist insurgency.

A robust challenge

The offensive capabilities of the Maoists should no longer surprise the Indian security establishment. In the past two years, attacks on state and national government facilities–including Jehanabad jail in Bihar on Nov. 13, 2005, security and electricity installations in the town of Udayagiri in Orissa on March 24, 2006, and the detention of the Tata-Kharagpur passenger train in the forests of Jharkhand on Dec. 10, 2006–show that the Maoists are not another rag-tag armed opposition group.

Officials from states in the grip of Maoist insurgency–which has cut through central India–have met frequently to hone their counterinsurgent efforts. These meetings do not seem to be having any impact on the ground. India has never been able to suppress armed insurgency in its forested areas through military means. Since independence, Indian forces have attempted to defeat separatist movements in the northeast of the country, which continue to plague the region. There is no reason to believe that the Maoists will prove any easier an opponent. Following the killing of 13 police personnel at Kanjkiro on Dec. 2, 2006, Madhu Koda, Chief Minister of Jharkhand, claimed that even with 50 companies, he could not guarantee security in the state. The recent killing of Jharkhand parliamentarian Sunil Mahato testifies to the precarious hold local forces have on sections of central India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in April 2006 stressed a two-pronged strategy to addressing the Naxalite problem: effective policing and accelerated socio-economic development programs. However, at the state level, the demand for more security forces has been the common refrain.

Doing more harm than good

Given the lack of infrastructure in the areas where Naxalites are strongest, no development activity can be undertaken without creating the necessary security pre-conditions. Maoists have consistently opposed development activities, killing two villagers April 1 in Chhattisgarh for allowing the construction of a steel plant on their land. However, whenever security forces are deployed in a concerted manner, they only accentuate the conflict through gross human rights violations.

It does not appear that New Delhi foresaw the implications of the Salwa Judum campaign, an effort begun two years ago to equip paramilitary citizen militias against the Maoists. The central government has supported such so-called civilian “uprisings” in other insurgency-hit areas. However, Salwa Judum has made little positive impact. Poorly equipped (because state officials are wary of losing sophisticated weapons to the Maoists), the paramilitaries have struggled to compete with the strength and tactical sharpness of the Maoists. Furthermore, the militia has deeply disrupted the lives of locals, displacing nearly 50,000 civilians into government-managed relief camps in an effort to isolate the populace from the rebels. The paramilitary effort threatens to alienate local people despite being calculated to win their support. It is preposterous to expect that the ineffective Salwa Judum campaign in “six blocks” of one district (Dantewada, Chhattisarh state) can serve as a model in denting an insurgency spread over 170 districts in 13 states across the country.

Chhattisgarh state officials have not plotted a way out of the mess created by the Salwa Judum campaign. If the Salwa Judum relief camps are dismantled, the civilians living in them will be even more vulnerable to Maoist retaliation. At the same time, so long as the Salwa Judum campaign continues, the loss of lives will be high, and the killings will continue to draw international attention.

The present Naxalite movement is not similar to the guerilla movement launched in the backstreets of Calcutta in 1960s, one driven in large part by students in keeping with the idealistic uprisings of the period. The present Naxal conflict brings the peripheries of India to the national mainstream and directly springs from the concerns of those historically oppressed and dispossessed. If the Naxal conflict develops into the kind of intractable crisis plaguing Jammu and Kashmir, it will bleed mainland India.

Despite the difficulty of such a route, the Naxal conflict can be addressed only through the rule of law and rights-based approaches to development. The government must ensure compliance with the common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocol Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II); ban forcible displacement of civilians, the recruitment of child soldiers and the destruction of the means of survival of civilian populations; better protect vulnerable civilians and ensure accountability for the violations by security forces.

Insurgent movements like that of the Maoists are in large part sustained by the human rights violations of the government. India has never before relied on the rule of law to combat its rebels. Such an approach may be New Delhi’s best and only option.


Suhas Chakma is director of the Asian Centre of Human Rights in New Delhi.

This article first appeared April 2 on

From our weblog:

India: Maoists pledge to resist anti-guerilla drive
WW4 REPORT, March 27, 2007

Maoist-Madhesi violence in Nepal
WW4 REPORT, March 23, 2007


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, May 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingINDIA AT WAR 


by Walden Bello, Foreign Policy in Focus

It was unexpected.

At the Seventh World Social Forum (WSF), held in Nairobi, Kenya, in late January, the most controversial topic was not HIV-AIDS, the U.S. occupation of Iraq, or neoliberalism. The topic that generated the most heat was China’s relations with Africa.

At a packed panel discussion organized by a semi-official Chinese NGO, the discussion was candid and angry. “First, Europe and America took over our big businesses. Now China is driving our small and medium entrepreneurs to bankruptcy,” Humphrey Pole-Pole of the Tanzanian Social Forum told the Chinese speakers. “You don’t even contribute to employment because you bring in your own labor.”

Stung by such remarks from the floor, Cui Jianjun, secretary general of the China NGO Network for International Exchanges, lost his diplomatic cool and launched into an emotional defense of Chinese foreign investment, saying that “we Chinese had to make the same hard decision on whether to accept foreign investment many, many years ago. You have to make the right decision or you will lose, lose, lose. You have to decide right, or you will remain poor, poor, poor.”

The vigorous exchange should have been anticipated since many Africans view China as having the potential to bring either great promise or great harm. If African civil society representatives were hard on China, this was because they desperately wanted China to reverse course before it was too late, so that it would avoid the path trod by Europe and the United States.

Beijing’s High Profile in Africa

The debate at the WSF took place amid a marked elevation of Africa’s profile in China’s foreign policy. In early February, President Hu Jintao made his third trip to Africa in three years, following the success of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which took place November 4-5, 2006. Attended by 48 African delegations, most of them led by heads of state, the Forum was the largest international summit held in Beijing.

At the start of the summit, Beijing unveiled a glittering trade and aid plan designed to cement its “strategic partnership” with Africa. The key items in the package committed China to doubling its 2006 assistance within three years, providing $3 billion worth of preferential loans and $2 billion worth of export credits, and canceling all interest-free government loans that matured at the end of 2005 and were owed by the heavily indebted and poorest African countries. In addition, the two sides agreed to raise the volume of trade from $40 billion in 2005 to $100 billion by 2010 and set up of a China-Africa Development Fund that would be capitalized to the tune of $5 billion to support Chinese companies investing in Africa.

If not yet the biggest external player in Africa, China is certainly the most dynamic. It now accounts for 60% of oil exports from Sudan and 35% of those from Angola. Chinese firms mine copper in Zambia and Congo-Brazzaville, cobalt in the Congo, gold in South Africa, and uranium in Zimbabwe. Its ecological footprint is large, says Michelle Chan-Fishel of Friends of the Earth International, consuming as it does 46% of Gabon’s forest exports, 60% of timber exported from Equatorial Guinea, and 11% of timber exports from Cameroon. Contrasting Images of China

China is popular with African governments. “There is something refreshing to China’s approach,” said a Nigerian diplomat who asked not to be identified. “They don’t attach all those conditionalities that accompany Western loans.” Adds Justin Fong, executive director of the Chinese NGO Moving Mountains: “Whether accurate or not, the image Africans have of the Chinese is that they get things done. They don’t waste their time in meetings. They just go ahead and build roads.”

An African development specialist working with a western aid organization claimed that Chinese projects are low-cost affairs compared to western projects. “Labor costs are low, they integrate African labor, so some transfer of skills takes place, and the Chinese workers live in the village, and this means living like the villagers, down to competing with them for dog meat.”

While they might dispute this characterization of China’s impact, most NGOs are nuanced in their assessments. They acknowledge that China has a different trajectory in Africa than Europe and the United States. Whereas the West began by exploiting Africa, China initiated its relations with Africa with “people-to-people” medical and technical assistance missions in the 1960s and 1970s, the most famous of which was the building of the now fabled Tanzania-Zambia (Tanzam) Railway. But with China’s rise as a modernizing economic superpower after the definitive decision in 1984 to use capitalism as the engine of growth, the old solidarity rationale has been replaced by a dangerously single-minded pursuit of economic interests– in this case, mainly oil and mineral resources to feed a red-hot economy.

If African governments were accountable to their people, say NGO critics, Chinese aid could play a very positive role, especially compared to World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans that come with conditions to bring down tariffs, loosen government regulation, and privatize state enterprises. But with non-accountable, non-transparent governments, such as those in the Sudan and Zimbabwe, say the critics, Chinese loan and aid programs contribute instead to consolidating the rule of non-democratic elites.

Crossing the Line in Sudan

Where China has definitely crossed the line is in Sudan. Using its veto power at the UN Security Council, China has prevented the international community from creating and deploying a multinational force to protect people in Darfur who are being killed or raped by militias backed by the Sudanese government. Even one African diplomat sympathetic to China asserts, “China’s strong backing for the Sudanese government has discouraged African governments that are trying to push it to accept an African Union solution to the problem.”

China has very substantial interests in Sudan. These are set out in detail in an important collection of studies launched at the WSF entitled African Perspectives on China in Africa, edited by Firoze Manji and Stephen Marks. China obtained oil exploration and production rights in 1995 when the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) bought a 40% stake in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, which is pumping over 300,000 barrels per day. Sinopec, another Chinese firm, is building a 1500-kilometer pipeline to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, where China’s Petroleum Engineering Construction Company is constructing a tanker terminal. Author John Rocha estimates Chinese investment in oil exploration to reach $8 billion.

Chinese interests go beyond oil. China’s investment in textile mills is estimated at $100 million. It has emerged as one of Sudan’s top arms suppliers. In one particular barter arrangement, China supplied $400 million worth of weapons in return for cotton. It is active in infrastructure, with its firms building bridges near the Merowe Dam and two other sites on the River Nile. It is involved in key hydropower projects, the most controversial being the Merowe Dam, which is expected to ultimately cost $1.8 billion.

The construction of the Merowe Dam has involved forced resettlement of the Hambdan people living at or near the site and armed repression of the Amri people who have been organizing to prevent the Sudanese government’s plan to transfer them to the desert. Local police and private agencies now provide 24-hour security to Chinese engineering detachments, but civil society observers say the aim of these groups is less protection of the Chinese than repression of growing opposition. As Ali Askari, director of the London-based Piankhi Research Group, puts it, “The sad truth is, both the Chinese and their elite partners in the Sudan government want to conceal some terrible facts about their partnership. They are joining hands to uproot poor people, expropriate their land, and appropriate their natural resources.”

Chinese and Sudanese officials tend to dismiss such criticism as the machinations of western powers. Such powers are alarmed at China’s becoming the top international player in a country long treated as being in the West’s sphere of influence. But, according to Beijing and Khartoum, the West’s dismal record of colonial plunder deprives its statements of any moral authority. Defending its close relations with the Sudanese government, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official, Zhai Jun, noted the contrast in African governments’ reception of China and the West: “Some people believe that by ‘taking’ resources and energy from Africa, China is looting Africa… If this was so, then African countries would express their dissatisfaction.”

Chinese officials are, however, wrong to think that African NGOs are merely parroting the rhetoric of self-interested western governments. In fact, civil society groups also consider such western criticism hypocritical. Commenting on the remark of a World Bank official to the effect that “Chinese handouts without reforms” would not be beneficial to Africa, John Karumbidza, a contributor to the China in Africa volume, acidly remarks, “It is the case…that this same bank and Western approach over the past half century has failed to deliver development, and left Africa in more debt than when they began.”

Other Problematic Partnerships

These criticisms are unlikely to go away, not only in Sudan but in many other countries where Chinese involvement with controversial regimes runs deep. With relations with the West and even South Africa deteriorating over his political record, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has increasingly turned to China, which one of his key ministers has characterized as an “all weather friend.” Chinese investment in mining, energy, telecommunications, agriculture, and other sectors was estimated at $600 million at the end of 2004, with another $600 million pledged in June 2005. The price, however, has been high, according to critics, who claim that Mugabe’s government has handed de facto control of key strategic industries to the Chinese. A contract with China to farm 386 square miles of land while millions of Zimbabweans remain landless has come under fire, with rural sociologist John Karumbidza blasting it as “nothing more than land renting and typical agri-business relations that turn the land holders and their workers into labor tenants and subject them to exploitation.”

The Nigerian government is another problematic Chinese partner, according to civil society activists. China has extensive interests in Nigeria, particularly in oil exploration and production. The China National Offshore Corporation (CNOOC), notes researcher John Rocha, has acquired a 45% working interest in an offshore enterprise, OML 130, for $2.3 billion; the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has invested in the Port Harcourt refinery; and a joint venture between the Chinese Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and the L.N. Mittal Group, plans to invest $6 billion in railways, oil refining, and power in exchange for rights to drill oil.

These interests have led to an increasingly tight alliance with the faction of the ruling People’s Democratic Party dominated by President Olusegun Obasanjo. This relationship has a controversial security dimension. As Ndubisi Obiorah, another contributor to the China in Africa volume who is director of the Center for Law and Social Action in Lagos, notes: “The Nigerian government is increasingly turning to China for weapons to deal with the worsening insurgency in the oil-rich Niger Delta. The Nigerian Air Force purchased 14 Chinese-made versions of the upgraded MiG 21 jet fighter; the navy has ordered patrol boats to secure the swamps and creeks of the Niger Delta.” Not surprisingly, the rebel Movement for the Emancipation of the Nigerian Delta (MEND) has warned Chinese companies to keep out of the region or risk attack.

With their integrated political, military, economic, and diplomatic components, China’s “strategic partnerships” with governments such as those of Nigeria, Sudan, and Zimbabwe increasingly have the feel of the old U.S. and Soviet relationships with client states during the Cold War.

Will Civil Society Make the Difference?

Nevertheless, many civil society activists do not discount the possibility that things may yet be turned around. Though critical of current Chinese policies, Humphrey Pole-Pole of Tanzania appealed at the Nairobi meeting for a “win-win-win” strategy — that is, “a win for China, a win for African governments, and a win for African people. This is not impossible.”

The key to such a change may be the growth of Chinese civil society organizations, some of which are increasingly independent of and indeed critical of government policies within China.

But closer ties between Chinese and African NGOs are not enough, says Justin Fong. Mechanisms to ensure Chinese government accountability are needed. One point of vulnerability he identifies is the practice of Chinese government entities, such as the China Export-Import Bank, of going for co-financing for their Africa projects to international banks such as HSBC and Citigroup. When it comes to controversial projects, pressure might be indirectly placed on the Chinese by lobbying these institutions, which are more sensitive about their image than Beijing. Such tactics, which sometimes worked with western governments and firms, may not, however, succeed with China.

But whatever their differences, civil society activists, African and Chinese, agree on one thing. It will be a hard, uphill struggle to change the Chinese juggernaut’s direction in Africa.


Walden Bello is executive director of the Bangkok-based research and advocacy institute Focus on the Global South.

This article first appeared March 9 in the International Relations Center’s Foreign Policy in Focus

See also:

Ijaw Militia Fight the Oil Cartel
by Ike Okonta
WW4 REPORT #129, January 2007

From our weblog:

Ethiopia: Ogaden rebels attack Chinese oil field
WW4 REPORT, April 24, 2007

Darfur: guerillas warn off oil companies
WW4 REPORT, April 19, 2007

China and Sudan reaffirm military ties
WW4 REPORT, April 5, 2007


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, May 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

Costa Rican president Oscar Arias announced on April 13 that his government will hold a referendum on the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), a trade accord between the US and Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. “For the first time, Costa Ricans…will be able to decide directly the future of a very important law for the country,” Arias said at a news conference. He is to send Congress a decree on April 17 authorizing the referendum, which could take place within three months. Under Costa Rican law, the referendum will be binding if 30% of Costa Rica’s voters, a little more than 781,000, participate.

Costa Rica is the only one of the seven countries that signed DR-CAFTA in 2004 not to win approval for the pact from its legislature; it now becomes the only country to subject the controversial measure to a popular vote. DR-CAFTA took effect in the other countries during 2006. President Arias is a strong supporter of the pact; he acted on the referendum only after a decision by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) on April 12 to authorize the referendum if DR-CAFTA opponents could collect signatures from 5% of the country’s registered voters (about 130,000) in nine months. Observers said opponents could easily meet the requirement.

Anti-neoliberal activists described Arias’ announcement as a major victory for Costa Rican democracy. As recently as December, analysts expected Congress to approve DR-CAFTA by March or April. Now observers feel there’s a real possibility that the pact will be rejected. Opinion polls currently show less than 40% of those surveyed in full support of the trade accord. But Rafael Carrillo, president of the Union of Chambers of Private Enterprise (UCCAEP), insists that Costa Ricans will “certainly” vote to ratify the accord. Albino Vargas, a leader of the National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP) and of the campaign against DR-CAFTA, warned against “corrupt political manipulation.”

“We can’t allow money to decide the fate of the referendum, in defiance of the people’s wishes,” he said. (Boston Globe, April 13 from Reuters; La Nacion, Costa Rica, April 13 from AFP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 15


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See our last report on Central America:

WW4 REPORT #132, April 2007

See related story:

Central America’s Last Stand Against CAFTA
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
WW4 REPORT #127, November 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, May. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution