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The scene in Africa is more awful still. To mention only one small element of a growing catastrophe, a study of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa estimates that "South Africa's military aggression and destabilization of its neighbors cost the region $10 billion in 1988 and over $60 billion and 1.5 million lives in the first nine years of this decade."49 Meanwhile, unlike the case of Iraq, the U.S. cautiously undertook "quiet diplomacy," recognizing the concerns of the racist regime and the domestic and foreign business interests it fostered. Congress imposed sanctions on South Africa in 1986 over Reagan's veto, but their impact has been limited. The American Committee on Africa reports that only 25 percent of U.S.-South African trade has been affected, and that iron, steel, and (until late 1989) half-finished uranium continued to be imported. After the sanctions were put in place, U.S. exports to South Africa increased from $1.28 billion in 1987 to $1.71 billion in 1989, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. This was an improvement over the reaction to the U.N. sanctions on Rhodesia, which impelled Congress to pass the Byrd amendment authorizing the import of Rhodesian chrome (in force from 1971 to 1977); "Many nations had covertly been violating the sanctions," Stephen Shalom observes, "but the U.S. became one of only three UN members -- the others were [fascist] Portugal and South Africa -- to officially violate the sanctions."50
The disasters of much of Africa are commonly attributed to "socialism," a term used freely to apply to anything we don't like. But there is an exception, "an island of freewheeling capitalism in a sea of one-party socialist states," Africa correspondent Howard Witt of the conservative Chicago Tribune writes. He is referring to Liberia, which, like the Philippines, can attribute its happy state to the fact that it was "America's only toehold on the African continent" -- for a century and a half, in this case. Liberia took on special significance during the Cold War years, Witt continues, particularly after President Samuel Doe, a "brutish, nearly illiterate army sergeant...seized power in 1980 after disemboweling the previous president in his bed" and proceeded to elevate his fellow tribesmen -- 4 percent of the population -- to a new ruling elite, and to persecute and savagely oppress the rest of the population. The Reagan administration, much impressed, determined to turn Liberia, like Jamaica, into a showcase of capitalism and democracy. In the first six years of Doe's regime, the U.S. poured military and economic aid into "the backward country," "even as evidence mounted that Doe and his ministers were stealing much of the money," and after he "brazenly stole" the 1985 election with Washington's approval, in a replay of the Noriega story a year earlier. A "respected expatriate Liberian dissident and former government minister," Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, says: "At the time, an American official told me bluntly, `Our strategic interests are more important than democracy'."51
The results of the aid are evident, Witt writes: "The soldiers of President Samuel Doe's army wear the uniforms of American GIs as they go about their business murdering Liberian civilians on the streets of the capital, Monrovia," named after President Monroe, and "the bodies of many of the civilian victims are dumped in the morgue at the American-built John F. Kennedy Hospital," where "combat-hardened doctors" say "they have never witnessed such brutality." Monrovia is a death trap, he writes. Those who are not struck down by starvation, cholera, or typhoid try to escape the army or the rebel forces under Charles Taylor, a former Doe aide -- or later, those under the command of a breakaway unit led by Prince Johnson.
The results of the U.S. aid became even clearer when reporters entered Monrovia with the African peacekeeing force after Doe was tortured and murdered by Johnson's guerrillas. They found "a bloody legacy" of the "10 years in power" of the U.S. favorite, UPI reporter Mark Huband writes: piles of bleached bones and skulls, many smashed; "half-clothed, decomposed heaps of flesh...littered with millions of maggots"; "contorted bodies...huddled beneath church pews" and "piled up in a dark corner beside the altar"; bodies "rotting into their mattresses"; "a large meeting hall for women and children [where] clothes clung to the skeletons of female and underaged victims."52
Not everyone, of course, has suffered in this "island of freewheeling capitalism." For a century and a half, the oligarchy of freed American slaves and their descendants "oppressed and exploited the indigenous population" while "the U.S. looked the other way." And lately, the Reagan favorites did quite well for themselves until their turn came to be dispatched. Others merely benefitted, escaping any such unpleasant fate: "U.S. corporations like Firestone and B.F. Goodrich made healthy profits from the expansive Liberian operations," proving that freewheeling capitalism has its virtues.53 The U.S. built a huge Voice of America transmitter in Liberia, perhaps to broadcast the happy message.
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49 UPI, BG, Oct. 14, 1989 (my emphasis).
50 Hans Schattle, "Loopholes cut impact of US sanctions law," BG, Jan. 26, 1990. On Reaganite support for South Africa under the guise of "constructive engagement," see Bernard Magubane, "Reagan and South Africa," Transafrica Forum, Spring-Summer 1989. Shalom, Z magazine, October 1990.
51 Witt, "U.S. fingerprints -- not heart -- are all over Liberia," Chicago Tribune, August 22, 1990.
52 BG, Oct. 11, 1990.
53 On the U.S. government role in Firestone's Liberian investments, motivated in part by concern over Britain's dominance of rubber production and restrictive practices, see Stephen Krasner, Defending the National Interest (Princeton, 1978), 98f.