On Albright's "Lost" Aura of Democracy
By Corey Gilkes
January 13, 2008
I really loved the well-written article by former Secretary of State Madeleine (shouldn't that be Meddlin?) Albright on the Trinidad Express on Friday 11th January. Such hubris, such hypocrisy compressed into twelve paragraphs. It was exactly the sort of historically decontextualised drivel I have come to expect from North Atlantic political figures (although, given what passes for local journalism and radio talk, it has spread here as well).
No one can deny that all over the world peace and stability are under threat by corrupt, authoritarian figures. But someone should ask Ms Albright: weren't these dictators and strongmen - who are usually found ruling countries rich with immense mineral resources - not installed and/or kept in power by Western governments who only were and still are concerned with their narrow self-interests?
In all this self-righteous talk about the "lost aura" of democracy - which itself remains a very vaguely defined concept other than the free press, token vote every 4-5 years and little else - no acknowledgement is given of a few "inconvenient truths". For starters many of the states where authoritarian, anti-Western rule is the order of the day, would not have been in such a position at all if the West, the US chief among them, did not dismantle the democratic processes that did exist.
Let's look at a few gems in her article. Albright wrote: "Arab democracy...has shifted out of first gear and back into neutral. The Bush administration's grandiose plan for the democratic transformation of the Middle East has been shredded by the venomous politics of Iraq, the electoral gains of Hamas, the popularity of Hezbollah and the growing fear of Iran." Obviously, I've missed a few things here; aren't the "venomous politics of Iraq" largely the result of humiliation felt by the Iraqi people over loss of sovereignty due to an illegal war as well as the mass removal of members of the then Baath party - the same ones who the BBC noted are now being enticed to go back to their old jobs? And about the electoral gains of Hamas, wasn't that by the same democratic elections set up by the West and Israel? What was the alternative of the people in the occupied territory, wasn't it the corrupt and inept Fatah?
But the icing on her cake was the mention of Iran; now here is a country that had a democratic process. That is until the United States, in collusion with Britain, toppled the government of Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. His crime? Attempting to nationalise the country's oil industry. It's nice that she should mention that "repression causes violence to build" because that is exactly what the pro-Washington Shah did, which in turn led to the rise of the fundamentalist Islamic movement who otherwise may have remained a marginal force in Iranian society. The rest is history.
It was not a year later when Washington pulled the same stunt in Guatemala because President Jacobo Arbenz, another democratically elected leader, tried to break the power of the moneyed elites and nationalise the banana industry, which threatened the interests of US-based United Fruit Company, so he had to go too. In fact, come to think of it, given the tone of her rant against the new generation of "caudillo"-style leaders in Latin America, a continent with a very long history of elitism, class-conscious governance and racism, where there is profound inequality in the distribution of wealth and mineral resources, it's clear where her sympathy lies. Oh, and what about the overthrow and murder of democratically elected Salvador Allende on September 11th 1973 or that of Patrice Lumumba of the Congo? And does anybody remember the removal of Cheddi Jagan in Guyana? What about the mining of a harbour in Honduras which, according to international law, is an act of war. Where were the concerns for the democratic processes then? One of her predecessors, Henry Kissinger, said it best: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people."
We in the Caribbean need to be more worldly wise and refrain from taking on other people "fire-rage." Democracy is a laudable system, but it cannot be imposed on someone by someone else on the outside; it has to be grown from within and ideally, from the grassroots level upward. In any event democratic principles did not originate in Europe or Greece, look to Africa for that. We must be very wary of these calls for "freedom and democracy" by Western powers; the minute you adopt their principles, follow them to the letter and then attempt to hold them to their word, they promptly change the rules. For them "democracy" is what "Christianity" was a couple centuries ago; a mere vehicle to enable their enrichment - at our expense. A nation's people must have the right to choose a system that can best guide their destiny; they may not necessarily be correct, but the right to be wrong should be THEIR right.