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Issue #1543      18 April 2012

Culture & Life

Lock up your poor

The United States, the world’s richest country – and according to its own propaganda the world leader in democratic freedoms – has the largest prison population in the world today. Seventy five percent of that prison population are black or Latino.

The USA may be the centre of world capitalism, but it cannot provide jobs for its own population (or housing or health care, either). To the ruling class in the US, poor Blacks and Latinos are not only economically superfluous, they are considered potentially dangerous. J Edgar Hoover, the notorious former head of the FBI, was constantly stewing about “the coming black uprising” in America.

Beliefs such as these have converted the US prison system into an instrument of social control. Half a century ago, in 1960, Black activist George Jackson wrote, from prison: “Black men born in the United States who are lucky enough to live longer than 18 years are conditioned to accept the inevitability of being sent to prison. For most, that reality is looming as the next phase in a long series of humiliations.”

The American Coalition for Human Rights has pointed out that not only are most people in US prisons poor people of colour, they were also unemployed or under-employed before being caught up in the prison system, and are there for non-violent crimes. Sensibly, the Coalition points out that this reflects the inequalities in US society.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has previously called on the US government to take action over the glaring racial inequalities exemplified in the country’s prison system, but instead of improving, there has been an increase in the prison population of the poor and people of colour.

Capitalism in the US cannot cure a problem of which it is not only the cause but which it constantly renews.

The energy wars

Meanwhile imperialism, especially US imperialism, continues its efforts to gain control over the world’s energy resources. From Iraq to the Horn of Africa, Libya to Nigeria, oil-rich countries are being helped to undertake “regime change” and to realign their oil exports to comply with US and EU preferences.

Apart from jockeying among themselves for the chance to dominate global energy, the imperialist powers are united in their endeavours to prevent China from having access to essential energy. Blocking China, as much as profits for themselves, is a principal driving force behind recent Anglo, US and French interference in North Africa and Nigeria.

Another country on the receiving end of imperialist intrigue and subversion is Venezuela. Venezuela’s state-owned oil reserves are vast and – what is most distressing to the US – they are being developed with Chinese help. Venezuela currently sends 460,000 barrels of oil daily to China, and in return receives technology, funding and resources.

Trade between the two countries has risen 52 fold since 1999, and currently stands at over US$10 billion per annum. Oil exports to China from Venezuela are expected to reach one million barrels by 2015.

Mercenaries or undercover warfare?

The hypocrisy of imperialist governments was once again on public show following the defeat of the NATO-backed (and NATO-armed) insurgents in the Syrian city of Homs. More than 1,500 prisoners were taken by the Syrian Army. Most were Muslim mercenaries from the “Wahabi Legion”, but according to French and Russian media reports, among them were 18 French nationals who claimed prisoner-of-war status but refused to give their identity, rank or unit of assignment. One of them is said to be a Colonel in French Intelligence.

The same media report that France has asked Russia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates to mediate to obtain their agents’ release. The capture puts France on the back foot: to acknowledge that the agents are in fact combatants with POW status is to acknowledge what everyone already knows but politely does not mention: that France (and its NATO allies) are waging an undeclared war against Syria, a UN member state.

If France washes its hands of them, there is no telling what they might do – or say – in return for being abandoned by their government.

Australians might remember when French agents let off a bomb that sank the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour in July 1985, killing Fernando Pereira, a photographer, who drowned on the sinking ship. The ship was going to take part in protests against French nuclear tests in the Pacific.

Two of the perpetrators were caught and sentenced to prison. The French government, not long afterwards, sent another agent to negotiate for their release (nominally they were sent back to France to serve out their sentences there, but of course as soon as they arrived in France they were received as heroes by the Right and they certainly never saw the inside of a French prison).

In company with several Sydney comrades, I subsequently met the French agent who negotiated their release. A nice chap, married to a member of the French CP, he revealed that the French government thought sufficiently well of his efforts on their murderous agents’ behalf that they gave him the Legion of Honour for it. Gives a whole new meaning to the word “honour”, don’t you think?

NATO, meanwhile, has imposed economic sanctions on Syria while weeping crocodile tears for the plight of the Syrian people, supposedly crushed underfoot by the Syrian army. At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Syria’s Ambassador Faysal Al-Hamwi denounced the NATO bloc for “inciting sectarianism” and fomenting civil war by arming the opposition in his country.

He pointed out that the economic sanctions imposed by some NATO countries against Syria hindered the procurement of medicine, vaccine, food and fuel. “Unilateral economic sanctions are the ugliest violations of human rights because they target first of all civilian populations, including women, children and the elderly.”

Syria has been a steadfast ally of Russia and China in the Middle East, and a thorn in the side of the oil princes, opposing US scheming and Israeli expansionism. “Regime change” was clearly overdue.  

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