Our local paper managed to avoid drastic doses of gloom-and-doom this Sunday. The Parade section, though, had its annual top 10 of world dictators. Yeah, whatever, they’re awful and we’ve heard all of this before.
As I skimmed, though, I noticed something disconcerting.
We’re funding way too many of these people. Some less than others, but nobody on this list gets nothing.
Parade‘s Top 10 Dictators, with crimes (from the article and from Wikipedia), U.S. monetary involvement (statistics are for total trade (U.S. import and export) in 2008 from U.S. Census Bureau, foreign trade statistics):
1. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe: brutal supression of opposition, turned Zimbabwe from a flourishing economy known as the “breadbasket of Africa” into an absolute wreck, partly by blaming white farm owners for everything and then stealing their land. Almost half of the population is now malnourished. Child soldiers (often drugged), repression of opposition, police brutality, government-sanctioned murders, widespread domestic violence unchecked by application of the law. Elections are marked by massive intimidation efforts, forced voting, murders, and forcing opposition supporters from their homes. U.S. imports of nickel and ferrochromium (both used in stainless steel) increased in 2008. ($204 million)
2. Omar al-Bashir, Sudan: the International Criminal Court summed it up pretty well: he is charged with “murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing, and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property.” The government has supported the Janjaweed, local Muslim militias that persecute all non-Muslims, and even non-Arab Muslims. Millions have been forced to flee their homes; many are in camps in neighboring Kenya. Bishop Macram Gassis, the bishop of the Catholic diocese of El Obeid, Sudan, who is forced to live in exile in Kenya except for short visits into his diocese, recorded bombings of civilians, churches, and hospitals. The Muslim government in Khartoum seems to have figured out that the Christians are respected for caring for their neighbors, so they’re trying to ingratiate themselves by re-building the hospitals they bombed to make themselves look good. U.S. trade with Sudan also increased in 2008; we sell them food stuffs and buy gum Arabic. China has stepped into the gap formed by Western sanctions and has been providing money and expertise to develop Sudan’s oil fields. ($148 million)
3. Kim Jong-Il, North Korea: massive labor camps, an entire country starving (except for his favorites), people so desperate that women will go to China as wives because at least they’ll get food. And then there’s North Korea’s nuclear program and continual sabre-rattling versus South Korea. At least we don’t buy anything from them. But we do sell to them. ($52 million, up drastically from previous years, almost entirely food stuffs.)
4. Than Shwe, Burma (Myanmar): repressive military regime, manipulated hurricane crisis to get new constitution passed. Human trafficking, forced labor, child labor, and 70,000 child soldiers. Ethnic minorities are subject to heavy pressure in order to force “burmisation” of these groups, including confiscation or destruction of property and the rampant use of rape and abduction of women to serve as sex slaves for the military. ($10.8 million, U.S. exports only)
5. King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia: primarily included because of the religiously motivated seclusion of and patriarchal control of women, who can’t study, work, travel, or marry without male guardian’s permission. Also, the kingdom fails standards of judicial due process and excessive punishment (public lashings, amputations, and executions). There are allegations of human trafficking. Although the Saudi royal family funded a massive mosque in Rome, no non-Muslim houses of worship are allowed. Allegations have been made that the religious police frequently break up even private, in home religious gatherings. The many Christian workers, often from the Philippines, are forbidden to bring Bibles, rosaries, or even religious jewelry with them. The U.S. ignores their human rights abuses because we can’t afford for them to get mad at us. ($67.2 billion, mostly oil)
6. Hu Jintao, China: Parade grossly underreported the problems in China. Yes, it’s a repressive system, with few of the freedoms of religion or of the press that we are used to in the U.S. (and the few freedoms that are allowed are more on paper than real-life freedoms). Although the magazine reported that dissidents can be held for up to four years without trial, they neglected to mention that after the kangaroo court convicts you, you could spend decades in the “re-education” camps. Ask the Tiannament Square protesters; the protest took place in 1989, but some protesters may still be in prison. Of course, there is also the coercive “One Child” policy, which the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) assists. The policy includes government enforced mandatory contraceptives, abortions, and sterilizations. Those who object have had their houses destroyed, parents arrested and held without food to force compliance, and babies killed at birth or during delivery. The current U.S. administration has decided that it can’t afford to say much of anything about any of this; China is our largest foreign creditor, and has even been lecturing President Obama on financial responsibility, since they stand to lose a lot of money if we don’t improve. ($409.5 billion)
7. Sayyid Ali Khamenei, Iran: repression of dissent; repression of women, ethnic and religious minorities, and journalists. Iran also executes juveniles: boys are eligible for execution at 15, girls at 9. Iran is also developing nuclear weapons. ($785 million)
8. Isayas Afewerki, Eritrea: no freedom of the press, no elections expected for “three or four decades” to avoid their polarizing effect on society. Typical police state stuff, including arrests and killings. ($15 million, almost entirely in U.S. exports)
9. Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, Turkmenistan: the government controls the media, political opponents are imprisoned, religious freedom is restricted, opposition parties are banned. Previous president closed hospitals and libraries, forced physicians to swear a loyalty oath to him, renamed months after himself and his mother, and made knowledge of his own religious work, the Ruhnama (based on Islam, with some Sufi poetry), mandatory for passing the drivers’ test. And I thought Doonesbury was being extreme with their fictional dictator… apparently, he was pretty close to life. ($200 million)
10. Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya: police torture and life imprisonment for “tarnishing” Libya’s reputation. Human trafficking, domestic abuse, aribitrary arrest, no civil liberties, etc. ($4.9 billion, mostly oil)
I don’t know if I agree with the rankings; China isn’t trying to kill its entire population like North Korea seems to be bent on, but they also are tormenting a whole lot more people. The Chinese government oversees more abortions in two years than North Korea has people. Plus, China is involved in propping up the regimes in Sudan and other oppressive countries, pragmatically stepping into the gap left by Western sanctions. The whole aspect of “normal” governmental agencies dragging women in for forced abortions just steps in with a whole new level of evil. Armies are bad enough, and have been throughout history; civilians were rarely safe, even in the fairly rare instances of army leadership saying that civilians weren’t to be harrassed. Bland functionaries from a stable government killing your children, however, for “rational” purposes like population control, are something even worse. I would’ve put China much higher up the list.
I would’ve included Venezuela, which, like China and Saudi Arabia, is one of our top ten trading partners, but maybe that’s just because we hear a lot more from Chavez than from, say, Qaddafi, since Chavez is in our hemisphere and courting Russian military exercises.
The total U.S. trade for 2008 came to be $3.4 trillion.
Our trade with these ten dictators comes to more than $483 billion, or about 14% of our total trade. Yes, the vast majority of that trade is with China, but, of course, they’re also the most populous nation on earth. Also, these numbers don’t include the financial entanglements of how much of our debt China owns.
The point is, however, that we are not outraged enough by these dictators’ actions and abuses of their own people to actually stop trading with them.
How do these awful people stay in power? In part, it’s us, or at least our money.