US hypocrisy on democracy
By Helen Shooter
"ALL WE want for the Serbian people is what we want for people everywhere-the right to choose their leaders." So said US president Bill Clinton last week, hailing the mass demonstrations and strikes that toppled Slobodan Milosevic. The contrast between Clinton's words and the way the US has behaved around the world is stark.
People in Peru, on the US's doorstep in Latin America, have just gone through a similar situation to that in Serbia. Peru's dictator, President Fujimori, only clung to power after a rigged presidential election in May.
The opposition had won a majority in parliament as people were sickened with Fujimori's ten year rule, during which opposition activists and journalists were imprisoned, and many thousands of people murdered by his forces. Fujimori had driven through the ravages of the free market, privatisation, deregulation and slashing welfare. Ordinary people's lives have been devastated. Yet the opposition's parliamentary majority disappeared magically as their MPs began switching sides.
Mass protests followed in the months after Fujimori's stitched up election victory. The police and army tore into them with batons, firing teargas and bullets. But Fujimori was then plunged into crisis last month after a video was uncovered showing his armed forces chief, Montesinos, offering a bribe to an opposition MP to switch sides. Protests exploded again, forcing the dictator to say he would resign, but not until July next year.
The US government has not shouted about this affront to democracy or encouraged people in Peru to launch a Serbia-style protest to get rid of their dictator. Instead Fujimori was praised and offered help by Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state, at a meeting two weeks ago. The US clearly thinks the dictator is still a man it can do business with. Fujimori came back from the meeting with a pledge of $460 million in loans from the Inter-American bank. The US has used its influence within the Organization of American States regional body to call for dialogue between Fujimori and the opposition. It brokered a deal for Fujimori to stay until July, allowing the old dictator time to anoint a successor.
The US is more concerned to see a stable transition inside Peru, rather than a popular uprising which could further ignite the seething discontent across Latin America. The US government is even trying to persuade Panama to offer asylum to Fujimori's exposed top aide, Montesinos. This "refugee" authorised death squads and torture under Fujimori's regime.
Peru isn't the only example of US hypocrisy over democracy and human rights. The US government is still backing Israel's rulers despite their troops daily shooting down Palestinians. The US is also prepared to ignore the vicious excesses of the Saudi Arabian regime, which has one quarter of the world's oil reserves. The country is run by the Saudi royal family as their personal property. They ban political parties, trade unions and social organisations. Every sign of opposition is suppressed and torture is commonplace, Amnesty International reports.
President Mubarak in Egypt is another key ally of the US. Again there is little sign of the democracy that Clinton claims to champion in Serbia. Mubarak faced huge peasant demonstrations and riots in 1998, but has maintained his power through mass repression of the opposition. The "world community" that Clinton talks about and New Labour's Tony Blair echoes, is one where the strategic and business interests of the rich and powerful come first.
It may mean shallow support for the movement that topples Milosevic if a new ruler can be installed for them to do business with. It also means they will disregard the widespread human rights abuses of fellow "community members" as long as they remain allies.