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Year 2005 No. 11, January 28, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Blair at the World Economic Forum

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Blair at the World Economic Forum

Barbarity is the inevitable consequence of foreign rule:
Brown Has Gone Further than Blair in the Attempt to Rehabilitate Empire

Cuba Calls on the United States to Stop the Torture of Prisoners in Guantánamo

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Blair at the World Economic Forum

Tony Blair used his keynote speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday to call for a global consensus under the hegemony of US imperialism. The World Economic Forum is the annual international gathering of representatives of big business and government. It was originally established with the declared intention "to contribute towards solving the problems of our age".

Although media commentators have mainly reported Blair’s comments on climate change, he presented a wide-ranging speech on international politics. According to Tony Blair, "Interdependence is the governing characteristic of modern international politics," and therefore, "its obvious corollary is unity of purpose in the international community." However, Blair was forced to admit that such unity does not exist, and that the last few years have been marked by growing divisions and disagreements. But he suggested unity could be built, and he saw great possibilities for building it, based on the sentiments expressed during the recent inauguration speech of George W Bush.

Most media commentators have concluded that Blair’s speech at Davos was mainly directed at the US government. Whether or not this was the case, what was clear was that Blair wished to use the occasion to openly support "America’s mission to bring freedom in place of tyranny in the world", and to declare that this might be the basis for a global "common agenda", not least because in his view "such a mission cannot be accomplished alone". According to Blair’s logic, the "export of democracy" by military means is to be welcomed, since "the more people live under democracy with human liberty intact, the less inclined they or their states will be to indulge terrorism or to engage in it". It therefore follows from this logic that the big powers, headed by Anglo-American imperialism, as the exporters of democracy, will "seek to increase the number of people able to live in democracy", as Blair put it, "as and when we can".

So it is on the basis of state terrorism and the hegemony of US imperialism that Tony Blair believes the global consensus can be build. But he also argued, "if America wants the rest of the world to be part of the agenda it has set, it must be part of their agenda too." In other words, the big powers must, despite their rivalry and contention, base themselves on a common agreed agenda, that can serve their interests. In describing the subject matter of this "common agenda" Blair presented all the key concerns of the ruling class in Britain, including "global terrorism", Africa, and climate change but he also attempted to find common ground with the other big powers and particularly with the US. The resolution of the conflict in the Middle East, therefore, was not addressed from the standpoint of recognising the national rights of the Palestinian people, but according to the preferred agenda of the US.

Underpinning the whole speech was Blair’s view that the big powers should decide the fate not just of entire continents, such as Africa, but of the whole world; that it should be their eurocentric notions that hold sway. Of course, for Tony Blair there are only "universal values". As he put it, "when people speak of ‘western-style’ democracy, in my view there is no such thing: there is democracy or there isn’t." To illustrate this view he pointed to both Afghanistan and Iraq, where through bombing and torture, and acting contrary to international law and the UN Charter, Anglo-US imperialism has attempted to impose its institutions without any consideration for the wishes of the peoples of these countries.

Tony Blair misses the point that people speak of "western-style" democracy to emphasise that this is a method and a process which has been perfected by the ruling circles to keep the people out of decision-making. So, to take Blair’s point at face value, there isn’t democracy where the people are in power under the Westminster parliamentary system, and certainly where this "system" or "model" is being imposed, as in Iraq, no such democracy exists and the situation is at once farcical and tragic. This is why the movement to say that Anglo-US democracy is a fraud is growing and the people are demanding democratic renewal.

Blair’s aim of establishing a global "common agenda" under the hegemony of the US is based on the premise that a unipolar world is less dangerous and more advantageous to Britain than the alternative. But the fact is that even if the big powers may today reach agreement on some issues, this does not and cannot prevent their growing contention and rivalry throughout the world. What is also clear is that Tony Blair’s continued support for "America’s mission" and the notion that democracy can be exported by military means will mean greater instability and the prospect of increasing global conflict.

Article Index

Barbarity is the inevitable consequence of foreign rule:

Brown Has Gone Further than Blair in the Attempt to Rehabilitate Empire

Seumas Milne, January 27, 2005, The Guardian

Perhaps Gordon Brown is preparing for that day after the next general election when Tony Blair is expected to offer him the choice of the Foreign Office or the backbenches. Or maybe he just thinks that if he can't beat the Blairites, he might as well join them. But the chancellor's declaration in Africa that Britain should stop apologising for its colonial history must give an unwelcome jolt to anyone hoping that a Brown government might step back from the liberal imperialist swagger and wars of intervention that have marked Blair's leadership. Far from being some heat-induced gaffe, his latest imperial turn follows an earlier remark that we should be proud of those who built the empire, which had been all about being "open, outward-looking and international". Even Blair, who was prevailed on to cut an "I am proud of the British empire" line from a speech during the 1997 election campaign, has never gone this far.

Apparently it is meant to be part of an attempt by the chancellor to carve out a modern sense of British identity based around values of fair play, freedom and tolerance. Quite what modernity and such values have to do with the reality of empire might not be immediately obvious. But even more bizarre is the implication that Britain is forever apologising for the empire or the crimes committed under it. Nothing could be further from the truth. There have been no apologies. Official Britain put decolonisation behind it in a state of blissful amnesia, without the slightest effort to come to terms with what had taken place. Indeed, there has barely been a murmur of public reaction to Brown's extraordinary comments and what public criticism there is of the British imperial record has increasingly been drowned out by tub-thumping imperial apologias.

The rehabilitation of empire began in the early 1990s at the time of the ill-fated US intervention in Somalia, used by maverick voices on both sides of the Atlantic to float the idea of new colonies or UN trusteeships in Africa. But in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, what had seemed a wacky rightwing wheeze was taken up in Britain with increasing enthusiasm by conservative popular historians like Niall Ferguson and Andrew Roberts, as the Sun and Mail cheered them on. The call for "a new kind of imperialism" by Blair adviser (and now senior EU official) Robert Cooper brought this reactionary retro chic into the political mainstream, and Brown's endorsement of empire has now given it a powerful boost. The outraged response to South African president Thabo Mbeki's recent denunciation of Churchill and the empire for a "terrible legacy" was a measure of the imperial torch-bearers' new confidence. The empire had brought "freedom and justice", Roberts blithely informed the BBC.

It would be interesting to hear how Roberts – or Gordon Brown for that matter – squares such grotesque claims with the latest research on the large-scale, systematic atrocities carried out by British forces during the Mau Mau rebellion in colonial Kenya during the 1950s: the 320,000 Kikuyu held in concentration camps, the 1,090 hangings, the terrorisation of villages, electric shocks, beatings and mass rape documented in Caroline Elkins' new book, Britain's Gulag – and a death toll now thought to be over 100,000. This was a time when British soldiers were paid five shillings for each African they killed, when they nailed the limbs of Kikuyu guerrillas to crossroads posts and had themselves photographed with the heads of Malayan "terrorists" in a war that cost 10,000 lives. Or more recently still, as veterans described in the BBC Empire Warriors series, British soldiers thrashed and tortured their way through Aden's Crater City – the details of which one explained he couldn't go into because of the risk of war crimes prosecutions. And all in the name of civilisation: the sense of continuity with today's Iraq could not be clearer.

But it's not as if these end-of-empire episodes were isolated blemishes on a glorious record of freedom and good governance. Britain's empire was built on vast ethnic cleansing, enslavement, enforced racial hierarchy, land theft and merciless exploitation. As the Cambridge historian Richard Drayton puts it: "We hear a lot about the rule of law, incorruptible government and economic progress – the reality was tyranny, oppression, poverty and the unnecessary deaths of countless millions of human beings." Some empire apologists like to claim that, however brutal the first phase may have been, the 19th- and 20th-century story was one of liberty and economic progress. But this is nonsense. In late 19th and early 20th century India – the jewel of the imperial crown – up to 30 million died in famines as British administrators insisted on the export of grain (as in Ireland), and courts ordered 80,000 floggings a year; 4 million died in the avoidable Bengal famine of 1943. There have been no such famines since independence.

Modern-day Bangladesh was one of the richest parts of the world before the British arrived and deliberately destroyed its cotton industry. When India's Andaman islands were devastated by the tsunami, who recalled that 80,000 political prisoners were held in camps there in the early 20th century and routinely experimented on by British army doctors? Perhaps it's not surprising that Hitler was an enthusiast, describing the British empire as an "inestimable factor of value" even if, he added, it had been acquired with "force and often brutality".

But there has been no serious attempt in Britain to face up to the record of colonialism and the long-term impact on the societies it ruled – let alone trials of elderly colonial administrators now living out their days in Surrey retirement homes. Instead, the third in line to the throne thinks it's a bit of a lark to go to a "colonials and natives" fancy dress party, while the national curriculum has more or less struck the empire and its crimes out of history. The standard GCSE modern world history textbook has chapter after chapter on the world wars, the cold war, British and American life, Stalin's terror and the monstrosities of Nazism – but scarcely a word on the British and other European empires which carved up most of the world between them, or the horrors they perpetrated.

Article Index

Cuba Calls on the United States to Stop the Torture of Prisoners in Guantánamo

Statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Havana, January 19, 2005

On January 19, 2005, reflecting the indignation of our people at the atrocities committed on prisoners held at the US Naval Base in Guantánamo, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented the US governmental authorities in Havana and Washington with a diplomatic note denouncing the flagrant violations of human rights that the said government is daily committing on Cuban territory illegally occupied by the above-mentioned naval base. This communication called for an immediate end to that inhuman and criminal conduct.

The note reminds the US government that the atrocities being committed on the base and the very fact of utilising that illegally occupied Cuban territory as a prison, is in violation of numerous instruments of international law and international humanitarian law, and moreover, violates the Coal and Naval Stations Agreement signed in February 1903 by the government of the United States and the Cuban government of that period, in conditions of inequality and disadvantage for our country, whose independence was circumscribed via the Platt Agreement.

According to Article II of that agreement, the US government committed itself to doing everything necessary to ensure that those locations should be exclusively used as coal or naval stations and for no other objective.

It is also important to recall that when the Cuban authorities were informed – although not consulted – of the US government decision to transfer a group of prisoners from the war in Afghanistan to this US military enclave in Guantánamo, the government of the Republic of Cuba informed national and internal opinion in a statement dated January 11, 2002, that "although the transfer of foreign prisoners of war on the part of the government of the United States to one of its military installations located on part of our national territory over which we have been deprived of the right to exercise jurisdiction is not in line with the regulations that gave rise to that installation, we shall not create any obstacles to the development of the operation". Moreover, the statement highlighted that our government had "taken note with satisfaction of public statements from the US authorities in the context of the prisoners receiving adequate and humane treatment".

The dramatic reality of the prisoners detained on the Guantánamo Naval Base, reported by the media to total 550 at the present time, likewise reveals the double standards of the US government in its hackneyed and manipulative campaigning on behalf of human rights.

The arbitrary detention of these foreign prisoners without the mediation of a legal trial, as well as the torture and degrading treatment to which they are being subjected, constitute a gross violation of human rights and numerous international treaties and conventions, in particular, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

With this hypocritical conduct, the government of the United States has demonstrated the falsity of its own public statements and once again has lied to the government of the Republic of Cuba, to its own people and to the international community by concealing the horrific acts of torture, cruelty and humiliating and denigratory treatment committed on prisoners detained on the Guantánamo Naval Base, only comparable with the torture inflicted on inmates in the prison of Abu Ghraib and other penitential establishments in occupied Iraqi territory.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs adds its voice to the calls and demands of the international community that the government of the United States instantly end these flagrant violations of prisoners that, moreover, are being committed on illegally occupied Cuban territory.

Cuba has the total moral right afforded by an irreproachable history in this context and the right conferred on it to exercise sovereignty over all parts of Cuban territory to denounce these abuses and violations that the US government is daily committing on the detainees on the Guantánamo Naval Base and to demand the end of these practices that violate international law.

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