THE TOLL ON PEOPLE'S LIVES AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Dante C. Simbulan, Ph.D.*
Imperialism has not really changed through the ages. It has attempted to change its stripes but it has retained its substance. The old Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Spanish, British, French, and the American Empires have much the same policies, goals and objectives which are: the policy and practice of extending or expanding its power and dominion over other nations, either by direct conquest and territorial expansion or by more subtle and not so subtle methods in order to impose its authority and influence over the captive nations, or both.
This domination extends to all spheres of human activity---it seeks to impose its will on the economic, political, social and cultural life of the victim nation. Old Imperialism does this mainly through the use of force, coercion and intimidation. Its modern-day practitioners, however, use a combination of methods.
The modern-day imperialists have learned from the bad experiences of old imperialism and have modified and improved their methods.
Their methods are largely influenced by the main engine which drives imperialist expansion: Global Capitalism.
Driven by greed for more and more profits, the imperialists seek:
- the control of territories that are sources of cheap raw materials to
feed their hungry factories---oil and gas, iron ore for making steel products, copper, nickel, silver, tin, manganese, etc.;
- the control of sources of cheap labor, usually from former colonies in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
- the control of areas in the world where excess capital can be profitably invested, generating vast wealth and super profits that they bring home to their countries (which explains their `prosperity' and higher standards of living), but leaving the masses of peoples in the countries they victimize poor and hungry and their lands devastated and robbed of their wealthy and resources;
- the control of profitable markets for their manufactured goods, for business and for trade, usually in the densely populated countries of the world with the ability to buy their manufactured goods, technology and services.
This capitalist engine propel the imperialist country to expand and extend its tentacles all over the globe. Its working slogans are: Free Trade, Globalization, Privatization, Liberalization, Deregulation, etc. It promises "development", "growth", and "prosperity."
In practice, however, only the wealthy few have developed, have grown and have prospered. In practice, the sharks have devoured the minnows. The big has eliminated the small. The rich have become richer while the hundreds and hundreds of millions of the world's poor have become poorer!
Modern-day Imperialism uses more subtle and crafty ways to attain its goals. It operates insidiously, always waiting for the opportunity to entrap its victims. It employs deceptive ways of gaining its foreign policy objectives, whether these be economic, political, social, cultural and military.
The art of deception has been perfected by the practitioner of imperialism, liberally using euphemisms, that is, the substitution of agreeable or inoffensive language for one that more accurately describes reality but which suggests something unpleasant. For instance, they use the word "aid", instead of the word bribe which better describes the intent of their acts. (cf. "The Art of Keeping Power" in "The Modern Principalia: The Historical Evolution of the Philippine Ruling Oligarchy" by Dante C. Simbulan, Quezon City: The University of the Philippines Press, 2007, Chap. 5).
Modern-day imperialism uses many guises, hides behind many masks. It would camouflage or hide its real foreign policy goals and objectives by emphasizing instead its "intention" of spreading democracy, freedom and human rights throughout the world. The aim is to cloak or hide its real economic and power goals.
The attainment of these objectives, of course, are extremely detrimental and harmful to the peoples of the captive nations, but they could be very enticing to the native ruling elites who see the prospect of getting more wealthy, thereby increasing their power and dominance over the masses of the people they rule if they join the imperialist bandwagon.
The use of compliant native rulers---the mercenary elites, corrupt oligarchs, military dictators, and just plain undisguised puppets---is another common technique of the imperialist. Their names have changed through time--- from the pejorative vassals and rulers of protectorates and client states, to the more appealing "friends and allies", and "partners in defending democracy and freedom" in the world.
AID AS AN INSTRUMENT OF DOMINATION AND CONTROL
One of the major findings in my study of ruling elite practices in the Philippines--- how they acquire and keep power---is the use of the poverty, the powerlessness and the ignorance of the masses as an entry point in further dominating and controlling them. After exploiting them and taking control of their lands through deception and other means, (which are the very reasons for their poverty), they suddenly emerge during periods of natural calamities such as floods, fires, earthquakes, etc. to express their sympathy to the victims. They suddenly become compassionate "philanthropists", bringing food and other aid to the very people they have exploited and impoverished for so long. (Incidentally, this is also how they win so-called "elections", which are nothing more than periodic competitions among members of the oligarchy, the ruling family dynasties).
The imperialists use similar methods of deception and manipulation, this time on a global scale. They feign compassion and pity for the starving millions in Darfur, the tsunami victims of Indonesia and South Asia, the typhoon and landslide victims and the hungry poor of the war-torn provinces of Southern Philippines, the cyclone victims of Myanmar, and the starving millions of Zimbabwe and Somalia.
The aid comes with many strings attached. The US and other donors want it known from whom it is coming from. They come with big markings such as USAID, GIFT OF THE USA, etc, and delivered with great publicity by U.S cargo planes and helicopters.
An interesting case is the offer of aid from the US government to cyclone-devastated Myanmar (Burma). Indeed, the destructive cyclone caused massive loss of lives and widespread devastation. International help was badly needed for the victims and survivors suffering from hunger. The UN, through its World Food Program, the International Red Cross, and other international organizations like SEATO all offered to help. All these were eventually accepted. But there was a hitch when the US offered to fly its own aid and some of the aid coming from international organizations and other countries through its military C-130s and Marine helicopters. The US military asked access to all parts of Myanmar affected by the cyclone. The military rulers of Myanmar, always suspicious of the US because of its hostility to the regime and its open support to the political opposition (which want the military junta toppled), coupled with its "regime-change" and interventionist record in the world, refused the request. They asked the US to channel their aid, instead, through the International relief organizations. Bush, after calling the leaders of Myanmar "heartless" for not allowing the US have its way, ordered the withdrawal of its naval vessels and its helicopters from nearby Thailand. It is not known if they left their relief goods with the UN or international organizations for distribution or if they brought it back with them.
The usual line of the imperialist-giver of aid is that their concern for the world's poor and hungry millions motivate them to help for "humanitarian" reasons. But the truth is, the US and rich donor-states always tie aid to their foreign policy goals. Sometimes also, the hunger and the need for food and medicine of the people come following economic sanctions imposed by the US and western nations because the government of the target countries refuse to conform or behave according to their demands. This is the case of Zimbabwe and Somalia, both of which are given treatment akin to "rogue" states because of their refusal to bend to the will of the imperialists.
According to an article by the UN InterPress Service, aid in the form of loans or grants are usually accompanied by the following conditions:
1) Support for the foreign policy goals of the donor;
2) Recipient must purchase products only from the donor;
3) Recipient has no control or say on how aid money is spent (the donor determines this.)
( UN Interpress Service, "Tied Aid Strangling Nations", July 6, 2004)
ODA, or Official Development Assistance, is designed to "promote development and welfare of developing countries" It is concessional in character, with a grant element of at least 25% and consists of loans, grants, and technical assistance extended by rich governments to developing countries of the Third World.
Outwardly, there is little to object in these 3 elements of ODA: 1) that it is official (government) aid; 2) the main objective is the promotion of economic development and welfare of the recipient country; and 3) the loans granted are made with "concessional" terms, with at least 25% in grants.
But coming from official governments with a hidden agenda, they are also subjected to unwritten conditions of the donor (just like USAID). The US, for instance, would not agree to granting ODA loans to a country that is opposed to US foreign policy.
In sum, USAID and aid coming from the rich countries are accompanied with a lot of unwritten conditions which, in the final analysis benefits more the donor than the recipient. Aid does not only maintain the dominance and control of the wealthy donor in its hegemonist aims but also strengthens their stranglehold on the recipient who is expected to be grateful and submissive to their will. Aid is also a good public relations gimmick, similar to the "goodwill" that business people often employ. It also facilitates access to the target country, especially to the economic opportunities that may be present there or for the intelligence and information gathering agencies of the imperialist country.
US MILITARY AID AS AN INSTRUMENT OF DOMINATION AND CONTROL
The military, by its very nature, is a tool of the ruling elites to protect their interests and to safeguard their rule. They will, of course, insist that it is not their interest but the "national interests" that is to be protected. But, the so-called "national interests" in an elite-dominated setting really equate, by and large, to the interests of those who are dominant in society. In an imperial setting, these are the global corporate elites---the giant oil companies, the financial conglomerates, the captains of industries, the trading moguls, the military elites, etc. who have spread their tentacles all over the world.
The real mission of the US military is to protect and defend the empire. The Pentagon has deployed US military forces throughout the world in bases and installations spread out in all the continents, ready to act on any perceived threat to the "national security" of the US [read: threat to the security of the U.S. empire]. Has any other country done this before, that is, divide the world into "global operating commands" just to protect its so-called "national interests"? The US has done so and placed each Command under a top general or admiral with specific mission to protect and defend US "national interests" [again, read: the interests of the empire] in their respective areas of responsibility. These Global Operating Commands are:
US Northern Command (US NORTHCOM, to include US and Canada, Alaska, up to the Arctic region;
US Southern Command (US SOUTHCOM, to include Central America, the whole continent of South America, and the Caribbean)
US European Command (US EUROCOM, which include both Western and Eastern Europe
US Pacific Command (US PACOM, covering East Asia, South Asia, and Oceania)
US Central Command (US CENCOM, covering the Middle East, Central Asia and East Africa)
US African Command (New—rest of the African continent)
Other COMMANDS, with Global Areas of Responsibility:
US Special Operations Command (Crisis Response, Rapid Deployment, Counter-insurgency forces; The JSOTF-P, Joint Special Opns Task Force operating in Mindanao, Philippines falls under this Command.) It has surreptitiously inserted itself in Southern Philippines and its commanders are freely operating in the General Headquarters of the AFP in Camp Aguinaldo, Q.C.
US Transportation Command, tasked to transport US military forces anywhere in the world.
US Strategic Command
US Joint Forces Command
*The CIA and the FBI have likewise been tasked to expand their area of responsibility to anywhere around the world! It is not surprising for the CIA to be operating around the world, for it has already expanded its operations a long time ago. Hence it has its African Division, a Far East Division, a Near East Division, a Western Hemisphere Division, a Central American Task Force, Operations Groups in Iraq, Nicaragua, South Asia, etc. (See John Prados, "Secret Wars of the CIA", Chicago: Ivan R.Dee, 2006)
But the FBI, which is a domestic investigating agency of the Justice Department, normally operating in the United States, has now embarked on many overseas operations. It arrests suspected "terrorists" in supposedly sovereign and independent countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and other countries of Africa and the Middle East. It is indeed acting like the policeman of the world, ready to exercise "police powers" in any part of the world in violation of the independence and sovereign rights of countries, UN principles and international law to which, the US says, it subscribes!
The newly-created US African Command is an interesting case of a growing rivalry on "turf" between the Pentagon and the State Department.
While the initial concept in the creation of the African Command is to facilitate or lead combat operations in Africa, the Pentagon is assuming more and more powers and responsibilities, including diplomatic roles, that are not part of its mandate. During the tenure of Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the concept of applying "soft power to reduce conflict" began to be applied. This include an economic assistance program, begun in Iraq and Afghanistan, and proposed to be applied worldwide. In Africa, the US Defense Department has military, economic, humanitarian, counter-terrorism and intelligence/information programs. These programs have penetrated Gabon, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Sao Tome, Senegal, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Mali, Chad, Nigeria and Mauritania. Since October, 2002, A US Combined Task Force had established a presence in the Horn of Africa. It now has at least 1,500 US military and civilians in Camp Lemonier in Djibouti. The US was also able to prod Ethiopia (with substantial economic and military aid) to invade Somalia, remove the Islamic leaders from power and replace them with leaders more friendly to the US government.
The question to ask is: why this massive deployment on a global scale?
The usual excuses of
1) protecting democracy and freedom;
2) responding to threats to the security of the US coming from anywhere in the world;
3) conducting anti-terrorism and anti-drug missions; and
3) [sic] easy and convenient way to respond when "aid" and other "humanitarian" missions are needed anywhere in the world. Indeed, a listing of "good reasons" but silent on the REAL REASONS!
US MILITARY AID AS AN INSTRUMENT OF REPRESSION
The recipients of US military aid in Third World countries are either (1) those who are willing to act as surrogates of the US in military adventures, or (2) unpopular regimes who fear their own people (but are loyal and friendly to the US) and are willing to support US foreign policy goals. Although these regimes have installed socially unjust structures and have used the military and the police to protect and maintain these structures, still their usefulness to the US counts a lot to the hegemonists.
The Philippines, for instance, is an example of a regime publicized loudly as a "democracy" by the US. Yet, from its inception as a nation-state, the Philippines have had governments established by the foreign powers that colonized it (Spain for more than 300 years and the US for more than half a century), that were led by these colonial overlords, assisted by selected native collaborators. When the American colonial administration finally abandoned direct rule, they entrusted political power to these few wealthy families who remained loyal lackeys, became a very compliant and submissive group to any US demand. This is the reason why, today, the US still remain as overlord in the Philippines.
The people who dominate every aspect of life in the Philippines are still the few wealthy families who do not truly represent the interests of the vast majority. They are a tiny group, an "oligarchy composed of plutocrats, of wealthy people, whose source of power is not the sovereign will of the people, but mainly the possession of wealth and other requisites of influence that have been acquired through the immoral and questionable use of such wealth." (Simbulan, Modern Principalia, op. cit., p. xix) This oligarchy has been in power for centuries and its abuses and oppression of the common people have resulted in numerous revolts and uprisings. It is also the reason why the vast majority of Filipinos, the masses, are mired in poverty and are the victims of disease, illiteracy and backward beliefs and superstition.
Today, this ruling oligarchy has donned a "democratic" attire and its members are supposed to be elected to public office in periodic elections. But the candidates always come from the few dynastic families who manipulate the elections and the electorate "through various methods, including the widespread use of bribery and buying of votes, .... the buying off of journalists and other media people to act as their public relations agents, to look the other way when they commit criminal acts, or to coerce or even have them killed if they become too defiant or they do not cooperate." (Modern Principalia, Ibid.)
In short, this is the kind of democracy that the US is protecting with its military aid, a democracy devoid of substance, a façade conveniently used by the ruling elites to camouflage their monopoly of power, a democracy of, by and for the oligarchs. And this regime is riddled with corruption. It seeks to preserve itself, only by using the military and the police to stifle dissent and opposition from the people. And thanks to the weapons, the instruments of death and the military skills to kill fellow Filipinos provided by the US, the corrupt regime still manages to survive. So far.
THE HEAVY TOLL ON HUMAN LIVES AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Modern Imperialism, with its accompanying methods of maintaining and defending its system of rule, exacts a heavy toll on the lives of the peoples of the world, particularly on the poor and defenseless nations of the Third World.
The support it extends to corrupt and repressive regimes, has prolonged the processes of social transformation. It prompts and encourages wars against peoples movements that seek to free their country and people from the domination by foreign overlords and native oligarchies. The history of the struggles for national liberation of peoples in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East attest to this.
In the process of these necessary struggles, the imperialists and their native underlings target not only the revolutionaries and their families, but also unarmed civilians who support the clamor for change: for land reform, for a people-oriented economy and social institutions, for a government truly representative of the people's interest, for a true and authentic democracy, for a truly sovereign and independent country, etc. Are these crimes, are these subversive of the people's interests? Yet the ruling oligarchy has declared an all-out war waged by their military and police forces. Their psychological warfare specialists and highly-paid propagandists have demonized their perceived targets as "enemies of the state", "threats to democracy and freedom" and even as "terrorists". They are then prepared for the kill and their hired assassins, goons and killers do the rest.
The grim results of this US-backed wars against the people clamoring for meaningful social change are well-publicized in the Philippines and abroad: the heavy toll on human lives, the gross violations and wanton disregard for human rights, the assassinations and summary executions, murders, kidnappings and enforced disappearances, tortures, dislocation of village communities, disregard for constitutional and legal rights, illegal arrests, arbitrary detentions, etc. (Under the Arroyo regime alone, more than 900 victims of extra-judicial killings, summary and arbitrary execution, and nearly 200 cases of enforced disappearances have been recorded from 2001 to the present.)
Only five days ago, on June 12, 2008, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines lamented the continued suppression of human rights in the country. In his keynote speech delivered before a large crowd at the Andres Bonifacio monument in Caloocan City, Metro Manila, he stated that:
1) The government has failed to stop the unexplained killings and enforced disappearances of activists (most of the victims oppose the existing ideology of the ruling elites);
2) Extra-legal killings are still happening;
3) Political, economic and civil rights are largely being suppressed in the country;
4) Our freedom [kalayaan] has not been won completely
5) Election s are still a sham. "The people can no longer put in power the candidates that they voted for."
6) The people's socio-economic rights are undermined
7) Nearly 25 million Filipinos live a hand-to-mouth existence (trans. Of "isang kayod, isang tuka")
8) We are still the victims of foreign exploitation. "Direct foreign rule has been replaced by foreign economic domination."
Indeed, no less than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has affirmed what the people's movement for genuine change have been saying all along!
THE SOCIAL COSTS OF EMPIRE-BUILDING AND IMPERIALIST AGGRESSION
The heavy toll on people's lives and human rights in the Philippines are duplicated in many parts of the world. They all have a common root: the continuing attempts to protect and expand the US empire result in acts of aggression against nations and peoples of the world. The Imperialist practice of employing willing tools, mercenaries and collaborators results in more killings and violence. If we review the historical record of the master who manipulate the puppet-strings, we can see the crimes committed not only against the people's of the world but also against the American people themselves. It will reveal tell us about the:
Nations who were decimated in a genocidal killing spree in order to acquire their lands, rich in oil and other natural wealth (the deliberate extermination of the Indian nations of America);
Nations who lost their sovereignty and independence, whose cultural identity as a nation disappeared and was replaced with the decadent culture of the foreign colonizers;
Nations who have been reduced to "hewers of wood and drawers of water" (as the Filipino nationalist Claro M. Recto called them), and have become servants of foreigners in their own land and overseas!
In the US, the ruling elites who manipulate the levers of power (in the economic, political, social, cultural spheres) still succeed in deluding the American people that they are not imperialists, that they are the good guys going out of their way to save the world from the bad guys; that they are fighting wars in the middle east and elsewhere, not for oil and other resources, but to liberate the people there from dictators like Saddam (who, by the way was one of their good friend at some time earlier). As a result, many Americans still allow their sons and daughters, many of them in their teens and fresh from high school, to be sacrificed in a war they do not really understand. All they are told is that they are fighting to defend America, to defend democracy and freedom throughout the world.
But as the years pass, millions of the American people are beginning to see the reality; they are beginning to distinguish the truth from the lies that their leaders like Bush, Cheney and the neocons have been spouting out. More and more Americans are beginning to open their eyes and see the many crimes committed by the greedy overlords of the Empire against the peoples of the world.
A few months ago, I attended a huge conference of representatives of progressive organizations in the U.S. There were about 2,000 delegates in all and for several days they discussed the issues facing America and the world. I left the conference with high hopes that this movement is going to prosper and grow, that it will eventually be a progressive majority and that, sooner or later, it will be a force to reckon with in US politics.
WHEN THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
I foresee the time when the victims and oppressed people's of the world will finally succeed in uniting with the progressive forces and solidarity groups in the US, the West, and the rest of the world. I foresee the time when the American Empire will suffer the same fate as that of the Roman, Ottoman, Spanish, British and other empires that preceded it. I can see the handwriting on the wall: that no empire can withstand the people's wrath; that their struggle for human dignity, real and genuine independence, authentic democracy will be victorious and that their determined goal to destroy the shackles that bind them will, in the end, prevail!
*Founding Director, Centre for the Study of Social Change
Retired Professor of Political Science and Government
First Executive Director, Church Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, Washington, D.C.
Political Prisoner of the Marcos Dictatorship