“Even among colonial horror stories, the atrocities of King Leopold II’s rule in the Congo stand out. Studies like Adam Hochschild’s ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’ (1999) have shown in vivid detail the venal cruelty that rendered life for the Congolese so wretched that they might have envied the Africans sold into overseas slavery in previous centuries.
“The fate of the Congo was the more bizarre because it was not technically a colony. It belonged to Leopold personally, not to Belgium. Still, the Congo was recognized as a Free Trade state by treaties with the United States, Germany, Britain and other nations. So notorious did Leopold’s regime become – thanks to the polemics of Mark Twain and the lurid revelations of the explorer Henry Morton Stanley and the diplomat Roger Casement – that the king was forced to hand the Congo over to the Belgian state in 1908, shortly before his death the following year.
“From then until independence was abruptly granted in 1960, the Congo was one of the many African colonies quietly administered by European nations.”
- from a review by Martin Rubin, published in The Wall Street Journal of Monday, March, 2012, of Matthew G. Stanard’s Selling the Congo (University of Nebraska Press, 387 pages)
“The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed.”
- pg. 7, PREFACE by Jean-Paul Sartre to The Wretched Of The Earth, Frantz Fanon, Grove Weidenfeld, 1963
Compared to electoral politics, editorializing has what may be described as an advantage, in that editorializing is mere opinion whereas electoral politics involves, and usually demands, performance. On the other hand, there is a downside to editorializing, because you can only say the same thing in so many ways so many different times. After a while, there is a measure of futility built into the very concept of editorializing.
In places like Great Britain, the United States, Italy, Belgium and the other parts of the world where the rulers of planet earth reside, the wealthy and powerful people who are the rulers believe that the planet belongs to them. At least, that is the way they behave.
There are many nation states of Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean which were colonies of the rulers until the post-World War II era, when the rulers had to begin granting their colonies something called “independence,” which turned out to involve symbols and did not really constitute freedom. These new nation states acquired flags and anthems and ceremonies, but they did not really acquire effective power over their resources.
In theory, the Congo owned its mineral wealth after independence and the Nigerian people owned their petroleum resources post-independence, but strategic pressures and financial bribery, designed in the war rooms of the Western rulers, resulted in the creation of a small minority of natives who ignored the best interests of their peoples and themselves became obscenely wealthy working for the companies and institutions of the same people who had once colonized them. Frantz Fanon described these small native minorities as the “national bourgeoisie,” and some scholars referred to the “new world” of supposedly decolonized nation states as “neocolonialism.”
In former British colonies like Jamaica and Belize, there is a political system called parliamentary democracy which is always dominated by two major political parties. In the case of Jamaica, these are the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP). In Belize, these are the People’s United Party (PUP) and the United Democratic Party (UDP). The political system featuring two major parties results in the peoples of such nations being always divided, no matter what the issue. Real change never takes place, and apparently concrete progress almost always turns out to be illusory.
In Belize last week Wednesday, we had general elections which returned the UDP to office. In Jamaica at the end of last year, there were general elections which replaced a JLP government with a PNP one. In Jamaica, the JLP is the more pro-business party, while the PNP is more roots. In Belize, it was the UDP which used to be more pro-business, and the PUP which used to be more roots. These roles have been reversed in Belize. It is the PUP which is now more pro-business, and the UDP which is now more roots.
Be that as it may, there were nationalistic things being done in the economy by the UDP in their previous term which were considered acts of hostility by institutions and companies based in the ruling West. When these institutions and companies expressed their disapproval, they were supported by the national bourgeoisie of Belize. The nationalistic initiatives implemented by the UDP were considered beneficial by the masses of the Belizean people, and so the UDP won a second consecutive term last Wednesday, though barely.
In Jamaica in the 1970’s, a PNP Leader by the name of Michael Manley tried to take Jamaica down the nationalist road of self-sufficiency. This incurred the wrath of the Western rulers, and they retaliated by destabilizing Jamaica in socially and financially devastating ways. The Jamaican society and economy collapsed, and the PNP fell to Eddie Seaga’s JLP.
Once you embark on the nationalist road, as Jacobo Arbenz did in Guatemala in 1951 and as Fidel Castro did in Cuba in 1959 and as Hugo Chavez has been doing in Venezuela in the third millennium, then you have to prepare yourself and your people for dire happenings. In the case of Arbenz, when the dire happenings began, he decided against arming the Guatemalan people and essentially went quietly into exile. Castro had fought and won a revolution, so when the dire happenings began, his people were already armed, and the Cubans have continued fighting for their nationalism and self-sufficiency up to the present day.
The reality in Belize is that half of our children every year enter the streets to try to make a living somehow. The vast majority of them have to become criminals. Entering the September business/holiday season last year, the UDP government took emergency measures to control crime and violence in the nation’s population and business center. Since they decided soon after that to call general elections, they continued the September emergency measures. These measures are not sustainable, because the national bourgeoisie, while benefiting from the measures where Belize’s business climate is concerned, do not support them. Belize’s national bourgeoisie believe the solutions to Belize’s problems lie in free enterprise, free trade, foreign direct investment, “dog-eat-dog,” and the resumption of economic domination by the Western rulers in the U.S., the U.K., Europe, etc. – the “Friends of Belize.”
The reality for Belize, therefore, is that despite the UDP’s sparkling new Cabinet, and their explicit commitment to protect the Belizean poor, the British and the Americans believe that Belize belongs to them. In that belief the British and the Americans will be supported by the national bourgeoisie of Belize. At this newspaper, despite the militant rhetoric of the Prime Minister, we don’t know that the core of his party understands what it takes to achieve national liberation. Under pressure from the Friends of Belize and our national bourgeoisie, the UDP will likely crack. This is real.
Power to the people.