The Global African: The Summit of the Americas & Reparations Conference

In this episode of teleSUR’s The Global African, host Bill Fletcher examines the upcoming Summit of The Americas, recent Nigerian elections, and a conference on reparations.

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BILL FLETCHER, HOST, THE GLOBAL AFRICAN: Today on The Global African, we’ll examine the recent Nigerian elections and discuss the upcoming Summit of the Americas and an upcoming conference on reparations.

That’s today on The Global African. Of course, I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. Thanks for joining us, and don’t go anywhere.

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FLETCHER: Every three to four years, a gathering of heads of states from North America, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean have met to discuss issues such as democracy, trade, and investment. That gathering, known as the Summit of the Americas, is set to take place this year over a two-day period, starting April 10, in Panama City, Panama. Sure to be on the agenda this time around is the U.S. decision to sanction Venezuela, a move that proved to be wildly unpopular among member nations. For the first time, Cuba, a nation that had been kept out of the summit due to pressure from the United States, will be an active participant after member nations threatened to boycott.

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FLETCHER: We’re going to have a discussion with James Early, a board member of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., focusing on the issue of the Summit of the Americas.

Thanks for joining us.

JAMES EARLY, DIR. CULTURAL STUDIES, SMITHSONIAN CENTER FOR FOLKLIFE AND CULTURAL HERITAGE: Thank you.

FLETCHER: So I was struck, James, that there seems to be a connection between the fact of this summit and the change in the U.S. relationship with Cuba.

EARLY: It would seem that way from the vantage point of the elite in the U.S., the media and all. But the reality is Cuba is but a distinct element in an integrated whole. And what I mean by that is Cuba is fully incorporated into Latin American and Caribbean nations through the new community of Latin American and Caribbean nations, through the Union of South American Nations, through the Bolivarian Alternative countries. It’s the U.S. that is being reintegrated into the hemispheric protocol. So Cuba is distinctive in one way, but only in relationship to whether or not Latin America and the Caribbean can fully test out its now new sovereignty. Heretofore the United States has dominated these events, but really the dynamic now is coming from Latin America.

FLETCHER: With Cuba coming in or entering, will that change the discussion? Will that change the agenda, literally and figuratively?

EARLY: Yes and no. It will change because Cuba, as a socialist, defiant, self-determined country is now supported, at least in this context, by even centrist and rightist neoliberal governments. So that changes their relationship to the United States towards their interest and mutual benefit, notwithstanding ideological difference.

With regard to those countries themselves, the question is: how much can they test out their sovereignty, viz., U.S. hegemony? The U.S. has made it clear that it’s come with a division-ness role in this Americans summit.

FLETCHER: What do you mean?

EARLY: Because of its attack on Venezuela.

FLETCHER: Ah.

EARLY: And so what that has produced is a strengthened unity of all of these voices seeing the United States as the outcast. I mean, you’ve got about 5 million signatures inside Venezuela. You’ve got all of these organizations and their trade relations and whatnot standing against this threat by the United States government. You’ve got the Non-Aligned nations standing against it. The gathering at the UN in support of Venezuela just recently had Russia and the nonalignment movement standing with Latin America and the Caribbean.

So the State Department and the Obama administration has made a determination that it is going to be an outcast. And that is only going to impel more the positive dynamic of integration among these countries. So Cuba will play a role, but will not be the principal portal through which people look at this issue.

FLETCHER: Let me ask you about this Venezuela thing, because I found it odd that on the one hand, in the context of this summit, the U.S. opens up relations with Cuba–a historic change. And then, a nanosecond later, they’re attacking Venezuela, alienating the same people who were just as upset about Cuba having been excluded, who welcomed Cuba and U.S. developing relations. And then, all of a sudden, here goes the United States again, whacking Venezuela.

EARLY: Yes. Yes. It is crazy confusing, and I would suggest some of the following scenarios might be into play.

One, there is a divide between–within the State Department of the more liberal people and the more hardline people. I think that is still evident around Cuba.

Now, why Barack Obama would actually sign it (is it out of ignorance? is he a very conscious element in play?) is a little unclear. Perhaps he signed it because Venezuela being the largest all oil reserve, supporting Petrocaribe, the crisis that the fall in oil has put in the Venezuelan economy, maybe this is seen as an opportunity to be the nail in the coffin for regime change. And that is what they would–because they’re also courting Brazil at the same time. Dilma Rousseff, the social democratic president of Brazil, will be coming to the U.S. soon, ostensibly in a rapprochement after the debacle around spying on her.

But Brazil is a real pragmatic centerpiece of Latin America. Although you have, ideologically, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba, Nicaragua, and Ecuador driving the transformation process, Brazil is really the big economy. So it’s a little unclear.

But the bottom line is, yes, the United States is alienated once again, after just having turned the leaf on Cuba.

But it raises the question on military might of the U.S. The U.S. has 12 air and naval bases in Panama. It is militarized in the heart of Latin America through Columbia. It has troops in Paraguay, in Peru, in Honduras. And so the U.S. has lost, in many ways, for the moment, the political and economic battle of who will drive the dynamics in Latin America and the Caribbean.

FLETCHER: Let me ask you one more question. The summit that’s taking place in Panama, which the U.S. invaded in 1989–carried out an immense amount of destruction, loss of life, which was not really covered in any real depth here in the United States–is the issue of Panama–I mean, as someone who follows these issues as much as you do, is the issue of Panama, is it on anyone’s table? Is that–any discussion about Panama, its sovereignty, and the aftermath of the U.S. invasion? And is it something that is likely to come up in the summit?

EARLY: There’s no discussion that I’m aware of in this actual context. There are a lot of symbolic issues. Eighteen seventy-six, Bolivar actually held the first convention to try and consolidate the Americas in Panama. The U.S. invasion of Panama, to which you alluded, is quite similar to what is going on vis-à-vis the U.S. and Venezuela, trying to divide the military, destabilizing the economy, attempt at a coup. So people are talking about that, using Panama to say that this is a clear indication of where the U.S. is going.

Panama is sort of the free trade political zone, where everything on top of the table and below the table goes on, and so that a lot of these left and progressive governments sort of de facto have had very fluid export-import relations, not so much formalities. And Panama still sort of plays that role.

I think quite significant for this Summit of the Americas is that the president of–the government of Panama is a center-right or almost a rightist government, but they are playing a good host of saying: welcome, Cuba; welcome, the new community of Latin American and Caribbean nation; and the U.S., this is going to go on with or without you.

So we’ll see–will be clearer to see what card the Obama administration plays, where the–. I can’t imagine that Barack Obama will sit sort of passively around the table, sort of tail tucked between the legs of coming back in. I think we will see some not-so-overt but some clear, consistent things, like trying to raise the integrity again of the Organization of American States, which is a weak organization now vis-à-vis these other organizations. And so that will be one of their goals, I suspect.

They probably will not ease up on the issue of Venezuela, despite the fact that they’re on the outside and all the other countries are unanimous about this threat.

On the issue of Cuba, I think we will probably see some comportment issues, perhaps handshaking, some chatting off-camera. And Barack Obama may actually announce some new steps in this negotiations going on with Cuba.

FLETCHER: James Early, thank you very much.

EARLY: Thank you.

FLETCHER: And thank you for joining us for this segment of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll be back in a moment.

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FLETCHER: We’re here with Nii Akuetteh, who I can say with great pleasure is the new executive director of the African Immigrant Caucus.

Congratulations.

NII AKUETTEH, EXEC. DIR., AFRICAN IMMIGRANT CAUCUS: Thank you so very much.

FLETCHER: I’m very proud of you, my brother.

AKUETTEH: Thank you.

FLETCHER: We’re here to talk about Nigeria.

AKUETTEH: Yes.

FLETCHER: So a historic election, in that a opposition party actually unseated the incumbent. How are you looking at the situation?

AKUETTEH: Oh, I think it’s wonderful.

Now, you know, the last time I was here, we talked about it, and I thought the president, who was just unseated, I thought from afar, at least from Washington, it looked to me like he had done some good things. But of course the voters–.

FLETCHER: We’re talking about Goodluck Jonathan.

AKUETTEH: Goodluck Jonathan. His party had been in power ever since Nigeria turned Democratic in 1999. They won the three previous elections. And the interesting thing is that the three previous presidents had all beaten the same guy, who won this time, General Buhari.

Now, how am I looking at it? I am very happy that this was a very clean election in Nigeria. They used technology that made it hard to falsify. And then the president actually conceded, to the dismay of some of his followers. So both on the fact that it was clean and it reflected the will of the Nigerian people and the president said, look, okay, I lost, I’m leaving, I’m going to help the incoming president, I think is great.

FLETCHER: Well, you know, one thing that struck me, Nii, was that the population seemed to mobilize.

AKUETTEH: That’s true. And I think the reaction of the Nigerian people should not surprise anyone, you know, if you look below the surface, because they clearly want a government they choose. They clearly want a government they can control. Always the elites, actually, have money to sort of make their own deals and buy their way to power. There was less of it this time. I can’t say that there was zero of it. There was some.

Now, in terms of the violence, the Boko Haram, one of the areas where I stand, I think that we need to give a little credit to Jonathan is he may have reacted late, but in the five weeks that the elections were postponed, I did not think it was postponed just to make it easier for him to rig elections as some suspected. He actually got help from South Africa and Eastern Europe, and then the regional armies and the Africa union and ECOWAS–everybody came together. So he used that time to suppress Boko Haram. I think Boko Haram right now is on the back foot. And so it dampened on the security.

FLETCHER: Now, one of the things, areas where you and I have had discussions is about the victor, Mohammadu Buhari,–

AKUETTEH: Yes.

FLETCHER: –not exactly a champion of human rights in the past. I mean, do you want to just say a little bit about him?

AKUETTEH: Absolutely.

FLETCHER: But, also, what are you expecting now?

AKUETTEH: I think those are two great questions. You know, no, he is not conventional of all. And his record, when he was in power–and he was in power for 20 months. In 1983 he overthrew an elected, democratically elected government. The president was Shehu Shagari, who was actually a Muslim from the North as well. And this guy, General Buhari, then a major general, overthrew him and governed for 20 months before he was overthrown.

And, yes, he came in with this slogan of war against indiscipline, in which, you know, people were abused. I mean, ordinary civil servants were made to do calisthenics and they were pushed around. And he also went after corruption. One of the most famous things was he had a minister who was suspected of corruption who had then gone to Great Britain. He [palled (?)] with Israelis, Israeli intelligence. And they–they grabbed this guy and injected him and put him in a crate and were about to ship them out of U.K. as a crate, until the British found out about it and stopped it. So you are so right. His record is not that of a champion of human rights.

But here is what he says. Those were different times. I was a military dictator. All military dictators, don’t expect that from them. And the term that the Western media has applied to him that I actually like is a born-again democrat. He says he’s a born-again democrat.

What do I expect of him? Now, you know, again, he ran three times. He lost to Obasanjo, he lost to Yar’Adua, and four years ago he lost to Jonathan. And so he’s clearly persistent and determined. And I keep thinking–and the fact that this time he won so convincingly–.

FLETCHER: By what, 2 million votes or something?

AKUETTEH: Yes, 2.1 million votes he beat the president with. And so that tells me that maybe Nigerians who know him and who compare him with the PDP see something in him that they like. He clearly thinks he has something to offer.

He also said he will create a lot of jobs and improve the economy. Now, I think that will be a bit tough, because the Nigeria economy plummeted in the last year because oil prices plummeted. And I don’t think Nigeria alone can make the oil prices go up. So he’s at the mercy of global oil prices. So on the economy, I think he might try, but I don’t have–.

Where I think he will have the greatest difficulty is with corruption. Yes, he himself, everyone says he’s incorruptible. That’s his image. He doesn’t seem to be very wealthy. He’s austere. So I give them credit for that. But the corruption is not just whether the president is corrupt. It is people around him, and also, you know, the general society–you can’t get things done until you bribe somebody. When I lived in Nigeria, was setting up the OSIWA office, just getting telephones, the number of times you have to go–. So I think that kind of thing will take years to uproot.

So of his three big promises, I think security he will do quickly. The economy and corruption will be a bit tougher.

FLETCHER: So, executive director Nii Akuetteh, thank you very much for joining us for the program.

AKUETTEH: It’s such a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

FLETCHER: Congratulations again.

AKUETTEH: Thank you. Thank you.

FLETCHER: Okay. Thank you.

And thank you for joining us for this segment of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. We’ll be back in a minute. So don’t go anywhere.

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FLETCHER: A summit on reparations is going to be held in New York City, organized by the Institute of the Black World 21, a policy, research, and advocacy group. The summit will bring together prominent scholars and activists from across the world. Last year, a committee of 14 Caribbean nations demanded that the governments of the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands pay reparations for the crimes of the Atlantic slaves trade and its subsequent impact.

The black American movement for slavery reparations also received renewed attention last year after Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote “The Case for Reparations”, which was in The Atlantic magazine.

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FLETCHER: We’re here with Don Rojas, who was the former press secretary for the People’s Revolutionary Government of Grenada, working directly with the late Maurice Bishop. Don went on from there to do many very important things, including founding The Black World Today, which was an early and pioneering online magazine. And he has been most recently working as a producer here with us at The Global African.

Thank you for joining us.

DON ROJAS: Thank you so much for having me, Bill. Always good to talk to you.

FLETCHER: It is. It is. And–but we’re here to talk about the reparations conference.

ROJAS: Right.

FLETCHER: So you have been instrumental in putting together what sounds like it’s going to be a magnificent conference. And I’d like you to just give us some background: why this conference, when it’s going to happen, and where.

ROJAS: Right. Well, this is an initiative of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, of which I am a member of the board. This is headed by Dr. Ron Daniels, a veteran civil rights, human rights activist in the United States.

The Caribbean Community, CARICOM (this is a group of 15 sovereign independent nations in the Caribbean region), in July 2013, in Trinidad and Tobago at the heads of government conference, passed a unanimous resolution, alright, to create a CARICOM commission, a CARICOM Reparations Commission, the objective of which was to place a set of demands to the European powers, former colonial and slaveholding powers, for restitution, for reparations for centuries of African enslavement and native genocide. This made a lot of headlines throughout the world, as a matter of fact, ’cause out of the blue this initiative came and caught everyone by surprise, including the reparations activists in the United States.

So we are going to organize this conference from April 9 to 11. And we’re going to take the conference to three different boroughs in New York City. We’re starting off the opening session–it’s a free public event, which is going to happen in Harlem–at the oldest black church in New York State. It’s called the Mother AME Zion Church. And then the following two days will be business sessions, working sessions, where representatives from reparations movements all over the country–and indeed all over the world–are going to be gathering at York College in Queens in New York for an exchange, an interchange, and an engaged dialog, the objective there being to find common ground, to–to begin to articulate collective strategies, to push the movement forward on a global scale.

So they’re all coming to New York. We have delegations coming in from Latin America, from Central America.

FLETCHER: Let’s keep this discussion about strategy. I really want to–I want to try to figure what this is going to look like.

ROJAS: So what is emerging in terms of a strategy, in terms of an approach, in terms of a program, a concrete program of action, is what the CARICOM nations have put forward, a ten-point plan that includes, you know, a formal, uninhibited, you might say, apology for the historical crimes of slavery and native genocide. It also calls for economic assistance to establish cultural institutions to educate the people of the Caribbean region on the crimes of slavery, of colonialism, and of native genocide.

It calls also for assistance in terms of public health, because the Caribbean region can trace its public health challenges all the way back to the days of slavery, when the slaves themselves were fed a diet, right, that was negative for their long-term health. And those health patterns have been passed on from generation to generation. So, for example, in the case of Barbados, which is just one country in the Caribbean region, it has the highest level of diabetes in the entire developing world, diabetes that can be traced right back to the diet that was fed to the [slaves].

FLETCHER: I mean, it’s very clear, and I mean a very clear agenda. But us in the United States?

They’re sort of milestones along the way in terms of the African-American reparations movement–publication of The Debt by Randall Robinson, right? The Durban Conference, the UN Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in 2000 and 2001, a huge African-American delegation went to that conference and was very active in it, met a lot of their colleagues from the Caribbean who were also there. Coming out of that conference, the UN declared slavery, chattel slavery, and the Atlantic slave trade as crimes against humanity, right? So there was a lot of momentum in the early part of this century. And then things petered out in the first decade.

They’re now starting to be revived, inspired in great part by what the CARICOM nations have done.

FLETCHER: Look forward to getting a full report when the conference is successfully concluded. Thank you very much, Don.

ROJAS: Thank you so much for having me.

FLETCHER: And good luck.

ROJAS: Appreciate it. Thank you.

FLETCHER: And thanks for joining us for this episode of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll see you next time.

End

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