LESSONS OF HISTORY
By: Chaitanya Davé
America’s Legacy in Congo:
In my book, CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY: A shocking Record of US Crimes since 1776, I had a long section on the assassination of Congo’s charismatic democratically elected leader Patrice Lumumba. In that chapter, I had given the detailed story of America’s and Belgium’s involvement in his assassination. As it is their usual practice, this involvement was indirect.
Congo was a Belgian colony for a long time. It was extremely rich in mineral wealth. But by 1960, many African nations had gained independence from their colonial masters. In 1960, sixteen African states had gained independence. Congo was the largest and richest. The independence in Congo, however, had presented a dilemma to the Western powers. Their vast investments and income especially from the rich countries like Congo were suddenly threatened, especially by fiercely nationalist leaders like Patrice Lumumba. The West had now to change its policy from one of overt domination to the one of covert control. The new leaders had to be taught to respect the new-colonial order.
Lumumba was an obstacle to this goal as he advocated the total de-colonization that would benefit the population of his country. The West knew that with Lumumba at the helm of the Congolese government, they would no longer be able to exploit the vast resources of the country like before. They considered him to be a communist. He had to be stopped at any cost.
Patrice Lumumba, a dynamic leader of Congo was democratically elected first Prime Minister in 1960. From day one of Lumumba becoming independent Congo’s Prime Minister, Belgium, the United States and other Western powers had started to bring about his downfall. They had their own vested interests in vast mineral resources of Congo; especially its province of Katanga that had proclaimed its own secession from Congo with lot of encouragement and support from the Belgian government. Thus, soon after his election, he was targeted by the United States for assassination. They tried to kill him by poisoning his tooth paste but the plot didn’t succeed. The CIA and Belgians were very active during this critical time. Finally they succeeded in helping stage a coup by financing the army chief named Mobutu. Mobutu was told to arrest the newly elected Prime Minister Lumumba who carried out the advice, was arrested and kept under house arrest under UN troops.
Lumumba one day escaped from his prison but with European powers’ help with a reconnaissance plane, was tracked down and was rearrested by Mobutu’s soldiers. The CIA and Belgium were working frantically to liquidate him now. As per United States’ and Belgium’s prodding, he was transferred to a province of Congo named Katanga whose leader Moishe Tshombe had vowed to kill him. So it was for-gone conclusion that if he was transferred to Katanga, he would be killed. Katanga was very rich in Copper and other mineral resources so the United States and Belgium were helping its leader secede from Congo.
Anyway, Mobutu’s soldiers transferred him to Katanga. Little later, he was tortured and finally killed by Moishe Tshombe’s men. He was only 36 years old. This was a sad story of Patrice Lumumba’s short life which was ended with the help of the United States and Belgium in 1961.
Mobutu, one of America’s many favorite dictators ruled Congo ruthlessly for many years killing many of his people. He was once a valued guest at the George H. W. Bush White House. He was corrupt to the core and amassed billions of dollars while his people lived in abject poverty. This was America’s legacy in Congo.
India-Pakistan War-1971 & US Response
Most of us know how Pakistan rejected the election of Mujibur Rehman on December 7, 1970. He was from (then) East Pakistan and had won the majority of votes. A major cyclone devastated the country but with little help coming from the leaders of Pakistan—who were from West Pakistan–thousands of people of East Pakistan poured into the streets in protest and declared a general strike. Pakistani dictator Yahya Khan then banned Awami League Party (Mujibur Rehman’s victorious Party), arrested Mujibur Rehman and ordered military crackdown that killed some 200,000 defenseless citizens of East Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands of Bengali (East Pakistani) women were raped by Pakistani soldiers. It also sent some six million refugees across border into India.
Later on, India who could ill afford taking care of six million refugees, reacted by invading East Pakistan. In that 13 day war of 1971, India crushed Pakistani forces and helped East Pakistan become an independent nation called Bangladesh.
What is interesting is the United States’ response during this war. President Nixon didn’t like Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi but he liked dictator Yahya Khan. On occasions, Nixon would use foul language privately showing his disdain for the Indian Prime Minister.
So United States clearly sided with Pakistan. Pakistan was an ally while India was friendlier to Moscow (they thought) and a non-aligned nation. Also, the United States was courting China for better relations and Pakistan was useful to them for the secret trip by Henry Kissinger to China.
The outbreak of war had triggered a flurry of activity in the White House. Convinced that India was bent on destroying Pakistan, Kissinger persuaded Nixon to approve actions to protect American ally. Washington asked the Chinese to mass troops on the Indian border while warning the Soviets not to intervene on India’s behalf. Also, it urged Iran and Jordan to transfer U.S.-supplied combat aircrafts to Pakistan, despite advice that such an action clearly violated U.S. law.
The worst act by the United States was to send its most formidable aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, into the Bay of Bengal as a warning to India not to invade Pakistan. Fortunately, the war was quickly won by India and both the superpowers were not drawn into this conflict.
What this conflict shows is that one cannot trust the United States and should always be vigilant. As one high ranking U.S. State Department official has said long time ago: “We don’t have permanent friends or permanent enemies. We have permanent interests”. One hopes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and most of the democratically elected world leaders are well aware of these lessons of history.