In Massachusetts as in many other states, there is a “movement” to divest pension funds of their holdings in companies doing business in Sudan, principally in Chinese oil companies there. The ostensible objective is to relieve the sufferings of the people of Darfur, whereas the real purpose seems to lie elsewhere. The campaign in Massachusetts has been spearheaded by State Senator Ed Augustus and by U.S. Congressmen James McGovern and Michael Capuano of Massachusetts.
If you are a state worker, State Senator Ed Augustus, backed by Congressmen McGovern and Capuano, wants to meddle with your pension fund investments for a dubious purpose.
Let me explain with a riddle. There is a country that sits on top of huge oil reserves, it is run by a nasty dictator, Israel regards it as an enemy state, it is Muslim, it is said to harbor “terrorists,” and President Bush expresses hostility toward it. In 2002, that country was Iraq; in 2007 that country is Sudan. And there is a move afoot to take action against Sudan but this time it is being led by the Democratic wing of the War Party. Are the American people about to be suckered into another intervention?
But you may say, is there not a “genocide” going on in the Darfur region of Sudan under the auspices of Sudan’s brutal dictator? Interestingly, only President Bush and the U.S. government, label the fighting in Darfur as a “genocide.” The UN and Bishop Desmond Tutu have called it a civil war, which is a very different story. But is there not terrible suffering going on in Darfur? The answer is yes. Perhaps 200,000 have been killed and a million displaced. But this is not the “worst” humanitarian disaster in the world. In fact 650,000 have been killed due to the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq and millions displaced. It is passing strange that President Bush is so concerned about Sudan when he wants to press on in Iraq. And for his part, Congressmen Capuano and McGovern, for all their talk of opposing the war on Iraq refuse to vote to cut off funding as have eight House Democrats and two Republicans in opposition to the war. So why do Bush and Capuano and McGovern not act to curtail the suffering in Iraq by simply leaving?
But you may say, there is real and terrible suffering in Darfur and in fact throughout Sudan. That is undeniably true. And the U.S. should be sending all the humanitarian aid it can to alleviate that suffering. In fact the U.S. could do more. In 2006, there were more deaths from malaria in Sudan and Darfur than from the civil war there. And in large part that is because the only pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, and the one that produced antimalarials at affordable prices was bombed “mistakenly” by the Democrat Bill Clinton in 1998. There has never been an apology by the U.S. for that act which borders on a war crime. And there has never been an offer of restitution. Perhaps Congressmen Capuano and McGovern might introduce a bill to provide funds to rebuild that factory.
Nevertheless there is heart-wrenching suffering in Sudan and Darfur. But here is the awful part. The measure proposed by Senator Augustus will add to that suffering not alleviate it. You see, Augustus is calling for the state pension funds to divest in Sudan, most particularly the Chinese oil companies doing business there. Sudan is already a very, very poor country with much of its population, including the people of Darfur living in poverty. The divestment campaign is designed by its backers to bankrupt Sudan and bring it to its knees, at the same time depriving China, which the neocons perceive as yet another enemy of the U.S., of Sudanese oil. The divestment and sanctions will fall most heavily on the people of the Sudan and because of the trading routes and how they work very heavily on the people of Darfur.
It is also strange that some of the same neocon groups as well as groups associated closely with AIPAC are pushing for this action against Sudan. These are the very groups that pushed us into war with Iraq and advocate war on Iran. For an example, see: www.DivestTerror.org. Is it just a coincidence that this campaign is driving a wedge between African Americans and Arab Americans? Who benefits from that? Finally the U.S. is already involved in neighboring Somalia, using Ethiopian troops as proxies and American Special Forces to oust a Muslim regime that is not to the liking of the administration and the neocons. And here again oil is involved. This is causing awful death and destruction in Somalia in the name of democracy and progress. Is Sudan next?
So one must distinguish between genuine suffering under cruel dictatorships, a terrible reality in Sudan and many other places, and the political uses to which these can be put. We were lied into the war in Iraq partly by the successful way that the neocons played on our good intentions about the benefits of removing an “evil” dictator. Using our good intentions, they led us into a long, cruel and deadly war, which in reality had nothing to do with removing Saddam Hussein. Let us not repeat the same mistake in the Sudan. Yes Congressmen Capuano and McGovern, let us increase humanitarian aid to Darfur. Let us pay reparations for the pharmaceutical plant there. But, Senator Augustus, do not get involved with risky meddling with the hard-earned pensions of the state workers to further increase the suffering in Sudan and Darfur. Hands off the suffering people of Sudan and hands off the state pensions.
JOHN V. WALSH is a long time peace activist and a resident of Cambridge, MA. He can be reached at John.Endwar@gmail.com.
He urges CounterPunch readers to look back at Conn Hallinan’s excellent piece on the same subject in CP, “The Right’s Stuff in Africa“.