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US Threatens to Boycott WCAR

by Frances M. Beal Thursday, Aug. 16, 2001 at 1:04 AM

The big secret is finally out in the open. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has publicly threatened the organizers of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) that the United States is prepared to boycott the United Nations gathering if its demands are not met.

USA Threatens WCAR Boycott

By Frances M. Beal

The big secret is finally out in the open. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has publicly threatened the organizers of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) that the United States is prepared to boycott the United Nations gathering if its demands are not met. Those demands are to remove references to Zionism from the draft declaration as well as defining slavery as a crime against humanity meriting Black reparations. If not, Powell says, the United States government will not participate in the deliberations scheduled for August 31 - September 8th in Durban, South Africa.

The public announcement follows months of behind the scenes pressure by the Bush Administration to delete what they think is offensive and issues that they are not prepared to see discussed before the world body of racial justice activists. The zionist lobby has been vociferous in its demands that the U.S. draw a line in the sand on

categorizing the Israeli treatment of Palestinians as racist, even though this formulation already appears in

former UN documents. The pressure was so intense that representatives of governments who had previously recognized the colonial status of the Palestinian people have capitulated to this blackmail and are asking the delegates "not to rock the boat" in the name of the broader interests of the global antiracist movement. At this point, the enormous arm-twisting seems to have succeeded and the language on Zionism does not look like it will appear in the final declaration.

It has proven more difficult to isolate those Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that have been carrying

the banner for Black reparations, and this has presented a knotty problem for the U.S. The conference has been divided into many working groups on specific topics and the one devoted to reparations has been one of the most active and the most successful in organizing a strategy to see that this is included in the final declaration. This was reinforced by an Africa and Africa-Descendents caucus that is united on a strategy aimed at influencing the WCAR on three main issues. These issues are the first three points of a ten-point call-to-action on which the Caucus reached a consensus in the meeting in Geneva this past week: (1) that the transatlantic slave trade, slavery and colonialism are crimes against humanity; (2) that the victims of the slave trade, slavery and colonialism - i.e., Africans and African descendants - are entitled to reparations; and (3) recognition of the economic basis of racism - that is, the linkage between the exploitation of Black labor and racism.

To many, these may seem like mild assertions and it may be difficult to grasp why the U.S. is so adamantly opposed to these formulations. However, this debate is not merely a demand for belated recognition of Europe and America's misbegotten racist past. At stake for the United States and its allies is a political and ideological struggle that is taking place in the context of 21st century economic globalization.

At an international level, the U.S. and its allies want to deny responsibility for the current emiseration of their

former colonies in Africa, Latin America or Asia. In particular, they want to sever the link between contemporary

poverty and five centuries of slave trading and colonialism. This boils down to a refusal to offer substantive debt

relief, which keeps Africa and other former colonies indentured to U.S. financial institutions.

On the domestic front, the reparations theme poses an adamant rejection of the "new racism" that guides the Bush

Administration. This neo-racism discards discredited biological racism in favor of attacking the demands to redress grievances as "reverse" racism. Its proponents deny the ongoing existence of racism and therefore the need for

compensatory programs. What is worse, the neo-racists cloak their support for maintaining white supremacy in a bogus call for reconciliation based upon abandoning the concrete struggle for racial justice. In its place we are offered domestic assaults on affirmative action - an extremely modest compensatory program. And then we are offered the thinly disguised racialized privatization schemes of public services and schools, which constitute neoliberalism's U.S. face. There is no such thing as institutional racism, Bush claims, and racial disparities are dismissed by blaming the victims of racial bias for their own impoverished status, for the high Black incarceration rate, for low educational achievement and Black political marginalization in U.S. society.

For African Americans the demand that the world body recognize slavery as a crime against humanity that merits

compensation would call the internal logic of the neo-racist agenda into question. And this movement is growing. Over the past few years, activists have pushed reparations to the center of discourse in the African American community. And some successes have been achieved, even within the framework of traditional politics. Several city councils, for example, have passed pro-reparation resolutions, including Chicago, Detroit and Dallas. And now this battle is being taken to the international community. In this context, the political and ideological legitimacy that the demand for reparations would achieve if included in the final declaration of the World Conference Against Racism would be immeasurable.

That is why the U.S. and the European Union (EU) have been dragging their feet about appointing a high level WCAR delegation. It is also why most of the foundation community, has been stingy with their financial backing. And that is why - until the U.S. threat to boycott - the media has been complicit in keeping most U.S. people ignorant of the fact that the conference was even occurring.

The agenda battle has re-ignited remembrance of the white arrogance associated with the colonial past. David

Commissiong, a Barbadian official, said of the stance taken by the EU and US, "We are talking about dealing with the current, existing legacies of that past" and "we are disappointed that the former colonial powers - and we should emphasize that some still are colonial powers - are so reluctant to acknowledge the indisputable facts of history and to come up with concrete solutions to many of the disturbances and injustices that stem from that history."

The African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party in the host country, was even more blunt. Its spokesman Smuts Ngonyama insisted that no one country should be allowed to "dictate to the world" what should be on the agenda of the WCAR. "Other countries also have a right to express what should be on the agenda," he continued, "but the democratic process has to follow. We don't want a world where a player can completely dictate to others."

Whatever the final U.S. decision, the ploy to hold the UN hostage via the boycott threat and the backroom arm-twisting is beginning to add up to a major diplomatic blunder, which has further eroded any claim the U.S. still had as a leading proponent of "democracy."


This article posted to Indymedia with permission from author.

Frances M. Beal is a columnist for the San Francisco Bay View newspaper and National Secretary of the Black Radical Congress. The views and opinions expressed in this article are her own.

Copyright (c) 2001 Frances Beal. All Rights Reserved.

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