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U.S. — Dictatorship Relations: A Field of Doublespeak

Nakul Vyas

In his 2005 Inaugural Address, President Bush said, “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.” If I were an Uzbek, a Turkmen, or an Equatorial Guinean watching the speech, I would not know whether to laugh or cry. Only in an Orwellian nightmare can Bush pontificate about liberty while supporting dictators in all of these countries. Only in a failed democracy can the President invade countries promising to spread freedom while he tortures prisoners in Guantanamo Bay without trial. Sadly, this is no dream.

Bush’s first puppet, Islam Karimov, maintained power in farcical 1999 Uzbeki elections. When the monitoring group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), criticized President Karimov’s record, he responded, The OSCE focuses only on establishment of democracy, the protection of human rights and the freedom of the press. I am now questioning these values.” Karimov has higher priorities.

In 2001, State Department officials described torture used in Uzbekistan. “Beating … with blunt weapons and asphyxiation with a gas mask” numbered among the techniques employed. According to The New York Times, “torture in Uzbek jails included boiling of body parts, using electroshock on genitals and plucking off fingernails and toenails with pliers. Two prisoners were boiled to death.” Pictures were subsequently released showing multi-colored black, blue, and red corpses swollen and burned by immersion in boiling water. The hands had no fingernails.

How did our President respond to “tyranny and hopelessness”? President Bush invited Karimov to the White House and gave him $500 million, ironically, for use in the “war on terror.” For comparison the Bush administration donated $352 million to tsunami aid. Amidst protest over human rights violations, the Bush administration suspended a mere 3.6 percent of the total Uzbeki aid. According to a State Department report, soon afterwards General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, criticized the suspension of aid and negotiated a new program equal to the one the administration suspended.

Rivaling Karimov in brutality is Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov. In February of 2005, Niyazov announced he was closing all hospitals outside the capital. Turkmenistan is twice the size of Great Britain. Human Rights Watch called it “a public health disaster.” The organization went on to paint a Kafkaesque portrait of Turkmenistan: unfair trials, torture, and “in a practice reminiscent of the Stalin era” banishment to uninhabitable deserts. Niyazov has banned opera, ballet, and philharmonic orchestra in his attempt to impose “a perverse cult of personality” that includes renaming the month of January after himself.

General Tommy Franks met with Niyazov in 2002 after which he said, “The cooperation between our nations remains very good and, of course, I am thankful for that, as well.” In 2003, the U.S. gave Turkmenistan $19.2 million in military aid.

To complete the trio, we turn to Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, who took power in 1979. Obiang won the last election with 97 percent of a vote “marred by extensive fraud and intimidation” according to State Department reports. Equatorial Guinea pulls in $5.5 billion from oil revenues. The country is one of the richest nations in Africa per capita at about $3,000 per person, but little money goes to improving the lives of the people. Almost half of all children younger than five are malnourished, major cities lack basic water and sanitation, and most of the population toils for less than $2 a day. After being arrested, most political opponents are tortured and often their relatives are taken as hostages.

In 1995, the U.S. closed its embassy in Equatorial Guinea because of Obiang’s human rights record. In 2003, the Bush administration reopened the embassy and later Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham granted Obiang a meeting in Washington. Obiang’s son praised the Bush administration: “The United States, like China, is careful not to get into internal issues.”

Why does the Bush administration support these dictators? In exchange for millions of dollars deposited in private accounts, Obiang lowers export taxes on oil. ExxonMobil, Marathon, and other U.S. companies are then free to pillage the country. As for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, both served as staging grounds for the invasion of Afghanistan.

Karimov, Niyazov, and Obiang have implications for the President’s mission to bring freedom to Iraq — his claims are either amnesic delusions or bald lies. Bush declared the U.S. went to war because of Iraqi WMDs and Saddam’s links to al-Qaeda. After these pretences collapsed, Bush seized upon a cynical vision to bring democracy to Iraq. How can the administration grasp third world dictatorship in one hand and flaunt Iraqi democracy in the other?

It is clear what kind of doublespeaking “war on terror” the Bush administration is waging. The war on terror is used to terrorize the people of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan just as the war in Iraq maims and slaughters more than a hundred thousand Iraqis. The bodies are left charred by fire, torn apart by cluster bombs, and uncounted by the military in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Corporate profits swell in Equatorial Guinea while human rights are discarded. At the same time, neo-liberal economic policies open the Iraqi market to exploitation by U.S. firms while women’s rights are excluded from the upcoming Iraqi constitution. None of this will change without popular pressure. As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

Nakul Vyas is a member of the Class of 2008. He encourages you to show your opposition to the war in Iraq by mobilizing on the Boston Common at 11 a.m. on Oct. 29. See for more information.