Saturday, February 05, 2011

Middle East: Time for US to Cancel the Licenses to Steal and Kill

Photo Cropped from Licence to Kill film poster | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Julio Godoy

Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

PARIS (IDN) - The legend has it that in 1948 U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, confronted with the ruthlessness and corruption of the Nicaraguan dictator Anastazio Somoza, said that the latter was a "son of a bitch. But he is our son of a bitch".

Historians dispute until today, whether Roosevelt was referring to Somoza or to yet another corrupt U.S. ally in Latin America, the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. In any case, both Somoza and Trujillo were indeed "sons of a bitch".

But they were also visceral anti-Communists, and this alone made them qualify to be close allies of Washington. Both remained "our sons of a bitch" until their bitter end -- Trujillo was assassinated in1961, probably by a group controlled by the CIA., and Somoza's son and heir as ruler of Nicaragua was chased out of power in 1979 by the Sandinista revolution, and eventually killed one year later in Paraguay by a Nicaraguan hit commando.

But the U.S. never learnt the Trujillo and Somoza lessons. Although it is not known whether U.S. presidents -- or European governments, for that matter -- ever made similar comments about Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak or Tunisian kleptocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, there is no doubt that all of them considered the two as "our sons of a bitch" during the last 30 years

Both Mubarak and Ben Ali qualified to be Western allies for their ruthless fight against Islam, both adopted mild positions towards Israel -- and that was enough, in the eyes of Washington and Paris, to neutralise their inaptitude and rampant corruption. All French governments since 1987, for instance, always praised Ben Ali as guarantor of stability, peace and economic growth on the Southern Mediterranean shore. They also dismissed the accusations against Ben Ali's corruption and brutality as exaggerations, or simply ignored them.

One year ago, when the book 'La Regente de Carthago', by two French journalists, was released, providing evidence of Ben Ali's reckless corruption, the official France ignored it. Actually, Paris did not need be told by third parties of Ben Ali's banditries. Two nieces of Ben Ali's infamous wife Leila Trabelsi – she is referred to as the corrupt "regent of Carthago" in the the book -- were directly involved in the robbery of yachts from ports in Southern France. Those several yachts were later located in Tunisian havens, and registered there under the Trabelsi nieces' names!

When the revolt threatened Ben Ali's power in mid January, the French government did not have any other reflex but to offer the dictator police units to "pacify" the country. Only when the dictator himself admitted his defeat and escaped Tunis, did France realised it had been supporting a regime constituted by thieves and torturers.

But the European and U.S. complicity with the Arab dictators goes beyond ignoring their deeds. Ben Ali, Mubarak, and others were able to stockpile a fortune with the help of French and Swiss banks and administrations. According to the French anti corruption group 'Sherpa', Ben Ali's riches amount to at least five billion U.S. dollars, including numerous luxurious real estate properties in Paris and elsewhere in France. As Sherpa's leader William Bordon decently puts it, "This fortune cannot be the fruit of Ben Ali’s lawful income as president of Tunisia."

Ben Ali's corruption may be peanuts compared to Mubarak's greed. According to official Swiss figures, the local banks manage Egyptian trust accounts for some 4,000 billion U.S. dollars. No wonder Mubarak -- this loyal friend of us, this brutal enemy of his own people -- is so fiercely clinging to office.

For all their talk about the pre-eminence of Western values, the decades-long complicity of European and U.S. governments with dictators does not end at the Mediterranean southern shore. During the past 10 to 20 years, notorious thieves such as the late Omar Bongo of Gabon, Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo Brazzaville, and even the former Communist foe José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola -- curiously, all of them ruling oil rich countries -- enjoyed the unconditional support of Paris, Washington, London, and Berlin, just as Trujillo and Somoza did 50 years ago.

The Western toughness towards Iran appears, in the face of this Western complicity with dictators and thieves in the Persian vicinity, not to speak of the Western tolerance of Israeli policy, as the proverbial case of double standards. It is this hypocrisy that also undermines all European and U.S. efforts for a stable peace and stability in the area.

Even in the fight against corruption, the West has failed. Only under the pressure of the street revolts in Tunis, and of such groups such as Sherpa in Paris, did the French or Swiss justice hesitantly moved – often too late -- to freeze the dictators' accounts and sometimes proceeded to restitute the fortunes to their countries of origin.

Guess where the former French president Jacques Chirac now resides: In a Paris palace owned by the Lebanese tycoon Hariri family, which has ruled the land of cedars on and off for the past 20 years. Chirac does not pay a cent -- the Hariris graciously allow him the dwell there free of charge, out of pure friendship, obviously.

Whether Europe and the U.S. will finally learn their lessons from their collusion with thieves and murderers -- only because they are killing "our" enemies and stealing other people's money -- remains to be seen. If the past experience -- back in the days of Trujillo and Somoza -- is an indicator, the most likely answer is 'no'.