Monday, March 12

Donald Vader

Emperor Palpatine & Donald Vader

The Ambassador of the Republic could have been a Jedi Knight .... what follows is the tragic true tale of Ambassador Yamamoto & his seduction by the dark side of the force.


We are amazed at times about the amount of attention paid to the court proceedings in Addis concerning the imprisoned leaders of the opposition, journalists and human rights activists. Of course the fate of the victims of Ethiopia's dictatorship is of great concern - our point is that the court and what happens in it is a silly, albeit lethal, masquerade of civilized proceedings.

The fate of the imprisoned leades is solely in the hands of Meles Zenawi. They are in prison with their lives on the line because he wants them to be and they will be sentenced when and how he wants them to be. Press releases about documents, evidence, witnesses, postponements etc. are just part of a game.

Tens of millions of Ethiopians have no human rights, up to a hundred thousand were put in prison camps in the past two years, tens of thousands have 'disappeared' and the only ones that even matter are the very few that Western aid donors personally know about.

It is that personal knowledge by the representatives of governments that threaten and beg Meles Inc. to treat its own people decently, that is keeping those men and women alive - nothing else or they would have already shared the even nastier fate of so many others. Ambassador Yamamoto has declared that

Ethiopia is one of the United States’ most important partners because it shares and supports many of our strategic goals [but that] ... the United States remains deeply concerned about Ethiopia’s domestic political environment.
Despite all evidence to the contrary Yamamoto also believes that
Everything may not be at the speed we would like, but at least it's moving forward.
Maybe it depends on what the meaning of 'forward' is? If forward is defined as short term foreign interests being served vis a vis Somalia then things are certainly moving forward ... but in no other way.

Yamamoto said
Meles' military cooperation wouldn't earn him a pass on human rights issues
but this is obviously not the case, of course the regime is getting a total pass on the human rights issue.

Second only to Meles in deciding the fate of the imprisoned leaders is Ambassador Yamamoto. One of our favorite blogs, Seminawork, has been keeping up with the Ambassador's actions in Addis. It is nice that he is more polite to the Ethiopian staff at the Embassy than his predecessor and that his style is less confrontational than other attempted intermediaries between Meles Inc. and the political prisoners.

But ... a little bit of a problem remains.

Meles wants to remain in power forever and the U.S. (having decided that he is Our Man in Africa despite all Collateral Damage) want him to remain in power (at least until the next Administration has to deal with the whole resulting mess). The elected opposition political prisoners and the Ethiopian people don't want Meles to remain in power.

The Ambassador may be working hard to get them released but only at the price of the will and the interests of the Ethiopian people being defied and ignored. For men and women of principle just like the political prisoners in question being released is not what it is all about.

After all if personal priviledge and relative freedom in a larger prison Ethiopia was what mattered to them they would have joined Meles Inc. to begin with rather than risking their lives for their cause.

Imagine that back during the twenty-seven years that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for his struggle against apartheid that he got regular visits from American diplomats and even well meaning South African scholars / sports heroes.

The American diplomats and the others told Mandela that Soviet activities in Angola and Mozambique are more important than human rights in South Africa and that he should approach Botha on bended knee to apologize for his opposition and criminal attempt at overthrowing the Apartheid Regime.

Or picture this, that back during the imprisonment of Natan Sharansky in a Soviet labor camp in Siberia that American diplomats had visited him regularly along with well meaning Russian scholars and sports heroes.

The American diplomats and the others told Sharansky that the health of ongoing detente talks between the superpowers were more important than the human rights of Russians and that he should approach Brezhnev on bended knee to apologize for his opposition and criminal attempt at overthrowing the Communist Regime.

Further, how about this further arm twisting: American diplomats approach the families of Mandela and Sharansky and ask them to pressure their stubborn kin into apologizing for their opposition and criminal attempts to overthrow a regime that serves American interests.

Imagine the degree of hostile revulsion that would have greeted such American acts had they occured. Even 'constructive engagement' had its limits. But, this is exactly what has happened to the families of the political prisoners in Ethiopia. From Seminawork

According to American Embassy sources, members of the families of Brehnau Nega, Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, Hailu Shawel and Yacob Woldemariam were asked to appear at the Embassy last Thursday on short notice. At the meeting, the US Ambassador appeared with Ethiopia's greatest Athlete, Haile Gebresillasie and Ambassador Bekele. Both have been mediating talks between the jailed Kinijit leaders and the Meles administration.

After the family members were briefed about the talks by Haile and Ambassador Bekele, they were told that the government wanted the jailed leaders to apologize for conspiring to overthrow it. A letter of apology drafted by the EPRDF was also shown to them. Ambassador Yamomoto assured the family members that if the prisoners signed the lettter, his office would guarantee their release.
To their eternal credit the family members refused to do so. For an American diplomat to support a dictatorship is at times understandable given that foreign policy is about self interest or in the case of the Clinton / Bush / Meles unholy alliance a matter of very very very short term interest.

However, that an American diplomat would participate in the pressuring the families of legitimate dissidents for the public relations purposes of a dictatorship is revolting. Opposition in Ethiopia is already a capital crime - one must assume that the Ambassador hasn't thought this whole thing out - if he has things get really ugly.

Families in Ethiopia already suffer for those close to them. The regime owns all land in Ethiopia and as Trotsky said, "opposition where the state owns all land [or the economy for that matter] is death by slow starvation." (Our addition is in italics.)

Rural folks are subject to summary seizure of their land, imprisonment at the whim of local party officials who also manage their planned crop and fertilizer based indebtedness to the regime whose permission they must seek to visit neighboring farms or villages.

The regime owns the rest of the economy through government monopolies, party owned businesses and crony businesses. Urban folks work, are educated or simply survive at the whim of the regime and its cronies / servile representatives throughout society.

All the while all Ethiopians are subject to one of the most brutal and corrupt systems on earth including murderous private tribal militias, staged terrorist incidents, vicious secret police and fake institutions of civilized government where they have no voice.

The degree of bravery that it takes to oppose the regime in the Gibee is almost impossible to comprehend as are the costs paid by individuals and their families and communities.

More familiar to Ethiopian dissident families regarding the government's interests in their role is the following from a November 27, 2005 New York Times editorial, "Mr. Good Governance Goes Bad"
Alemzurya Teshoe, 25, the daughter of one opposition leader, told Marc Lacey of The Times that police raided her home to take away her father and fatally shot her mother, who was screaming in protest.

Ms. Teshoe said neighbors who went to recover her mother's body were told that they had to sign a document saying that the opposition party was responsible for the killing. ''I was there when they killed my mother,'' she said of the request, which was later dropped. ''I saw it with my own eyes.''
The similiarities here are too obvious to point out. The American Ambassador has under the guise of 'just helping everybody' served the interests of Meles Inc. in the very worst manner. Darth Vader hardly ever did better for Emperor Palpatine. The Ambassador's actions are simply wrong.

No one expects different from Meles, but for the U.S. government to be involved in communicating threats and dangling carrots in this matter is not what Americans pay taxes for. Expecially when it is the fact that the names of the victims are known to the U.S. government is all that keeps those victims alive.

Participants in the discussions with American diplomats must be wondering the following - "if we don't cooperate will this nice man choose not to remember the names of our family member arrested for being a dissident?" This is simply not the kind of message that American diplomats should ever give anyone.

Particularly in the setting of suddenly being summoned to the U.S. Embassy while worried about their imprisoned loved ones - only to be presented by the American Ambassador kindly asking / (threatening?) / hurrying them to submit to a tyrant - it is a wonder that the families had the strength to resist.

We are sure that the British may have tried the same kind of pressure through foreign diplomats on the intimates of those who signed the Declaration of Independence. Certainly those left behind in the South by runaway slaves who went to join the Union Army were also subjected to such attempts at intimidation.

Ambassador Yamamoto is just following orders in the end. The real issue is that President Bush's statement that
All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you
clearly does not apply to Ethiopians.

It is in the setting of the show trial under way and resulting human rights pressure on both the Meles Inc. and American governments that all of this maneuvering is going on. Some minimal semblance of pretended decency is required by both parties to get what they want lest Congress or the American press start to pay attention to Our Man in Africa.

The stakes are far too high for a public relations effort from anyone. According to Meles the issue with the opposition even beyond their supposed Rwanda style ambitions is not his personal power (he even vows to give up before the next election!) but the constitution.

Particularly its clauses for tribal divide and rule and for the total absence of all private property rights. Those clauses and the essentially corrupt worldview they represent is exactly why Ethiopia will always be in permanent crisis and desperately poor.

Loyalty to a constitution forced down a country's throat is like expecting Mandela and Sharansky to have accepted the South African or Soviet constitutions of the 1980s. The way things are now the regime needs no Ethiopian support to stay in power. The only true constituency of Meles Inc. is foreign aid donors.

It is simply shameful and beyond all civilized diplomatic precedent that a representative of the American government would collude with a dictatorship in this way. Using the families of dissidents to force apologies and surrender for sincerely held democratic beliefs is vile.

Such efforts are about as unpleasant and new as previous statements to the Ethiopian diaspora, that unique amidst immigrants to America, that they should mind their own business when it came to U.S. foreign policy.

This, regarding an Ethiopian dictatorship that uses Ethiopian embassies and consulates to spy on and intimidate the diaspora for the crime of criticism while out of AK-47 range.

This is all exactly the type of thing that Congress and the press need to know about. Americans should be aware what their government is doing and tolerating in their good name.

Don't play along with whatever charade comes out of Meles Inc. There is no trial verdict due - there is only the decision that Meles makes. He will make it in consultation with the U.S. government to see how much he can get away with.


The Killing Fields post below is complete and the beginning of a new series.

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