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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pourquoi le Parlement européen doit déchirer l’accord les accords d’échange avec Israël

Israël, comme l’Afrique du Sud, est un Etat d’apartheid. Ces mots ont été prononcés au début des années 60 par Henrik Verwoerd, le premier Ministre sud-africain. Étant lui-même un raciste incorrigible, il n’avait pas de difficultés à reconnaitre la fondation de l’état d’Israël comme un projet raciste.

Deux fois au cours des dernières semaines, j’ai vu « Roadmap to Apartheid », un puissant nouveau documentaire dirigé par Eron Davidson et Ana Nogueira, qui compare Israël avec l’Afrique du Sud sous la domination blanche. Ce qui me frappe est que la pratique et la terminologie utilisée dans les deux situations est pratiquement identique. En Afrique du Sud, les noirs étaient considérés comme des “natifs étrangers” ; Israël considère les Palestiniens comme des “absents présents”. Dans les deux cas, ce vocabulaire obscène est utilisé pour dépouiller les êtres humains de droits essentiels sous le prétexte fallacieux qu’ils n’appartiennent pas a la terre à laquelle ils sont indigènes.

Les Nations Unies définissent l’apartheid comme la domination d’un groupe racial ou ethnique sur les autres. Quand la définition est appliquée à Israël, nous pouvons conclure que l’oppression d’Israël sur les Palestiniens est plus extrême que l’oppression de l’Afrique du Sud sur la majorité noire africaine durant l’apartheid. Comme « Roadmap to Apartheid » le démontre, les Sud Africains noirs n’ont jamais été sujets a une campagne de bombardement de trois semaines comme l’a infligé Israël sur les 1.5 millions d’habitants de Gaza en décembre 2008 et janvier 2009.

Le boycott grandit

La domination blanche a finalement été renversée en Afrique du Sud grâce à une combinaison de résistance interne et de pression internationale. Il est frappant qu’Israël fait face maintenant à une campagne de boycott, désinvestissement et sanctions (BDS) qui grandit plus rapidement qu’une mobilisation internationale similaire contre l’Apartheid en Afrique du Sud. Le premier appel pour un boycott général de l’Afrique du Sud a été lancé dans les années 50 mais n’avait pas eu un impact sérieux avant les années 80. L’appel palestinien pour un BDS date à peine de 7ans mais s’est déjà distingué de victoires significatives.

Même le Parlement européen a récemment annulé un contrat avec la compagnie de sécurité G4S parce qu’elle offrait un service dans les prisons israéliennes.

Malheureusement, le Parlement n’a pas pleinement adhéré à l’engagement du BDS.

Durant les prochains mois, un vote des membres du Parlement européen est prévu sur un nouvel accord d’échange UE-Israël. Connu sous le nom d’Accords sur l'évaluation de la conformité et l'acceptation des produits industriels (Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products ou ACAA), il permettrait aux autorités israéliennes de garantir à leurs produits manufacturés le même statut que celui garanti par les autorités au sein de l’Union européenne. Ca permettra à Israël d’exporter plus facilement des produits par ici. Au départ, cet accord sera limité aux produits pharmaceutiques mais il pourrait rapidement être étendu à d’autres catégories.

Pour le gouvernement de Benyamin Netanyahu, obtenir l’approbation du Parlement pour l’ACAA est top prioritaire. Il a engagé Gavin Anderson, RP de la firme Kreab, pour l’assister dans ses efforts. Karl Isarksson, chef de la branche bruxelloise de Kreab, m’a dit que sa boîte fournissait à Israël des conseils en « messages politiques ».

Les trois Stooges

Isaksson a précédemment travaillé comme conseiller en chef pour les eurodéputés conservateurs de Suède. Le fait que le plus actif supporter de l’ACAA est Christoffer Fjellner, des eurodéputés conservateurs suédois, ne peut pas être une coïncidence.

En février, Fjellner et deux autres eurodéputés (le Polonais Marek Siwiec et la Britannique Sarah Ludford) ont signé un article qui sentait bon la Hasbara (terme hébreu pour désigner la propagande). Il laissait entendre qu’Israël allait nous permettre de vivre plus longtemps et nous sortir de la récession. Selon les trois Stooges, l’ACAA est nécessaire pour augmenter l’offre de « médicaments de grande qualité et abordables » en Europe. Israël est « un leader en innovation pour les produits et services de soins de santé » soutient leur article. Il ajoute que stimuler le commerce avec « nos principaux partenaires » est « sans aucun doute d’une importance accrue en ces temps de détérioration des finances publiques et vu le besoin de couper dans les dépenses gouvernementales à travers le continent. »

Karel de Gucht, le commissaire européen au commerce, a essayé de persuader les eurodéputés d’entériner l’ACAA en le présentant comme « rien de plus qu’un accord technique ».

Ce que dit de Gucht n’est pas sincère. Dans un rapport d’étape de 2009 sur Israël, la Commission européenne déclarait que l’entrée en vigueur de l’ACAA marquerait le premier pas de l’intégration d’Israël dans le marché unique de l’UE pour les biens et les services. De Gucht ne peut pas sérieusement maintenir que le marché unique n’est qu’une simple question technique ; c’est profondément politique.

Les gouvernements de l’UE ne voient pas non plus l’ACAA comme « rien de plus qu’un accord technique ». Répondant à une demande d’un eurodéputé l’année dernière, le Conseil des Ministres disait que l’ACAA est « susceptible d'avoir un impact positif sur les relations bilatérales entre l’UE et Israël ».

Avant de démissionner en tant que chef de la diplomatie européenne en 2009, Javier Solana décrivait Israël comme un membre de l’Union sans en être un membre de ses institutions. L’ACAA va renforcer une relation déjà forte.

C’est insultant pour les sympathisants sionistes de présenter Israël comme un leader médical. Halla Shoaibi de l’université du Michigan (USA) a fourni une documentation sur 69 Palestiniennes qui ont du accoucher à des barrages routiers parce qu’elles étaient empêchées de gagner des hôpitaux entre 2000 et 2007. En conséquence de quoi, cinq des mères et trente-cinq bébés sont morts.

L’Etat d’Israël décide qui peut aller à l’hôpital et, dans bien des cas, qui peut vivre ou mourir sur base de critères religieux et ethniques. Un régime sud-africain avait un jour pris des décisions comparables sur base de la couleur de peau.

Ne vous y trompez pas : Israël est un Etat d’apartheid.

●Traduction : www.michelcollon.info

Monday, May 28, 2012

Come on Ireland, resist the EU's diktats

Not long ago, there was a popular joke. What’s the difference between Ireland and Iceland? One letter and six months.

Whether the joke was ever funny is debatable but it certainly isn’t now. The causes of the two countries’ economic woes were remarkably similar. Both had deregulated their financial services and let the banks run amok. In Ireland, major banks were able to loan up to three times the national income. Iceland’s banking industry acquired assets worth 10 times the country’s gross domestic product.

Yet the way Reykjavik and Dublin have dealt with their crises differed radically. Iceland allowed its banks collapse and default on their loans. Its former prime minister and some titans of finance are now on trial. Ireland’s government, on the other hand, decided to guarantee the bank’s deposits with the money of its taxpayers. Nobody has been held to account for the reckless behaviour of the super-rich.

Iceland is now faring better than Ireland. This is due in no small part to how Iceland is not part of the European Union and still retains its own currency. Ireland does whatever its slavemasters in Brussels and Frankfurt tell it to do.

Celtic Ticker

Fortunately, one thing the Irish haven’t lost is their sense of humour. The funniest thing I have seen lately was on a website about the EU’s fiscal treaty set up by the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC). As part of its campaign for a Yes vote in the imminent referendum (31 May), IBEC is underscoring how “Ireland keeps Europe ticking”. This boast is based on how the country “exports more than 1 million heart stents per year”.

I wonder did some “public relations” consultant come up with that gauche metaphor. If so, IBEC should probably withdraw the juicy fee promised to that consultant and instead give him or her a grant to become a stand-up comedian. The Celtic Tiger has now become the Celtic Ticker.

Coward of the county

Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, was elected last year on a promise that his party, the centre-right Fine Gael, would “burn the bondholders”. The promise that he would valiantly take on French and German bankers who had supplied too much credit to the Irish banking system in the boom years has not materialised. “We will not have ‘defaulter’ written on our foreheads,” Kenny has said.

There are more appropriate words that should be branded on his brow. How about “coward” or “cheat”? Not only has he broken the pledge he made to voters, he has so far refused to take part in a live TV debate with opponents of the fiscal treaty. The only plausible explanation for his refusal is that he is too scared to do so.

It is customary for the Irish elite to avoid serious debate on crucial issues. The country signed up to the euro – thereby sacrificing control over its monetary policy – without any proper discussion about the wisdom of this move.

The referendum in a few days’ time says nothing about an Irish commitment to democracy. The Irish Times has documented how the Dublin government connived with its EU slavemasters to find a formula that would not necessitate putting the fiscal treaty to a vote. Máire Whelan, Ireland’s attorney general, eventually recommended that a referendum should take place. Her advice has not been published but it is blindingly obvious that it was motivated primarily by political expediency. She knew well that the “No” side was waiting to challenge the treaty in court if it was put on the statute books without a referendum. She knew that – unlike her political masters – not all Irish people are willing to be slaves.

Labour: now Thatcherite

I fervently hope that my compatriots will reject this pernicious treaty. Yet I am not under any illusions about the effect of a “No” vote. A Dublin uppercut won’t deliver a knock-out blow to the EU’s austerity agenda. It will, however, discomfit the establishment and underscore that the dangerous economic experiment being undertaken across the Union is reviled by large sections of public opinion.

Activists in Greece have been known to hold placards saying “we are not Ireland; we resist”. The activists had a point: for the most part, my compatriots have proven too pliable. When Irish politicians have recited the Thatcherite mantra “there is no alternative”, the public has generally rolled over. There have been some protests in Dublin but they have been pathetic when compared to the mass demonstrations in Athens and Madrid.

One hundred years ago this month, the Irish trade union movement decided to establish the Labour Party following a proposal by James Connolly. In a speech to mark this anniversary, former Labour leader Dick Spring has recalled that 345,000 had emigrated from Ireland in the decade before that decision.

Labour is the junior party in the Irish ruling coalition today and has betrayed the socialist principles to which Connolly dedicated his life. Once again, Irish people are quitting the country in droves.

Less than four years after the decision to found Labour, Connolly played a leading role in a revolution against British rule. He was captured and executed by forces loyal to the crown.

I don’t believe that Connolly’s rebellious spirit will ever be rekindled by Labour. But the spirit remains vibrant among many community activists in Ireland’s towns and cities. By saying no to the EU’s diktats, the Irish can show that we’ve stopped rolling over. And started to resist.

●First published by New Europe, 27 May – 2 June 2012.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dublin's newspapers declare open season on Palestine solidarity campaign

Tomorrow Ireland will hand over 2.25 billion euros ($2.8 billion) to a bunch of wealthy gamblers whose names have not been revealed. These “bondholders” -- as they are politely called -- lent money to Allied Irish Bank, when it was still in private hands, four years ago. Now, parents with disabled children will have to cope with reduced public services as the state pays off debts that ordinary people never incurred. It’s the kind of manifest injustice that should be setting pulses racing at editorial conferences in every Dublin newspaper.

The Irish Times, however, prefers to spend its time and resources attacking Palestine solidarity activists.

For the second time in as many weeks, that “journal of record” has published an opinion article against the cultural boycott of Israel in its weekend edition.

The latest missive is by the author Gerard Donovan, who complains about an appeal made by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) for him to pull out of the International Writers Festival in Jerusalem. Donovan implies that he was unfairly treated by the IPSC and that he had, in fact, already cancelled his plan to visit Jerusalem for this month’s literary event due to the “lingering effects of cancer.”

I read the IPSC’s letter – signed by Raymond Deane, a classical music composer and tireless defender of human rights -- to Donovan a short while ago. It runs to three paragraphs, all of which are courteous. After drawing Donovan’s attention to a Palestinian-led initiative urging artists to shun Israeli institutions, Deane wrote: “There is nothing that I can add to this eloquent appeal, save to stress (this is often misunderstood, sometimes deliberately) that the call for a cultural boycott of apartheid Israel is not directed against individual artists but against the Israeli state, which is deemed to be whitewashed by the participation of international artists in events subsidized by that state.” (The literary festival certainly fits that bill as it is hosted by the Jerusalem Foundation, a Zionist body set up by the openly racist mayor Teddy Kollek, who oversaw the large-scale demolition of Palestinian homes in order to establish Jewish-only settlements).

Deane was unaware of Donovan’s illness and the fact he had already cancelled his plan to visit Israel. An apology to Donovan has been posted on Deane’s website.

Once again, this is respectful in tone. And yet Donovan claims he has been subject to “intimidation,” without producing any credible evidence to back up that assertion.

Muddled

One week earlier, The Irish Times published another article about whether Israel should be boycotted. It was written by Fintan O’Toole, a drama critic and columnist. O’Toole is usually a clear thinker, yet his contribution to the “debate” was muddled in an almost comical matter. First, he argued that Israel shouldn’t be boycotted as doing so will be interpreted as anti-Semitic. Then, he proposed a code of conduct for artists undertaking promotional tours. The final two points in his code were: “don't perform to audiences forcibly segregated on lines of race, gender or ethnicity” and “don't let yourself be used for propaganda purposes.”

Does O’Toole seriously think that Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are free to go to the theater in Tel Aviv? And is he unaware that the State of Israel uses art and culture for propaganda purposes? Indeed, a campaign known as “Brand Israel” has been set up by the Israeli foreign ministry for that very purpose.

The IPSC has told me that it sought a right of reply to O’Toole’s piece. If The Irish Times was really as committed to balance and informed debate as it purports to be, it would have published a piece by the IPSC this weekend, giving the rebuttal equal prominence in the paper to O’Toole’s contradictory waffle. Rather than doing so, it published Donovan’s diatribe against the Palestine solidarity movement. So much for balance.

Relics?

Another Irish publication, The Sunday Independent, to its credit, did publish an article about the scandal of tomorrow’s scheduled payment to unnamed bondholders. That article was penned by Gene Kerrigan, the only left-leaning commentator on that reactionary paper’s payroll.

Yet its pages also contain a nasty rant by Nicky Larkin, a pro-Israel film-maker. Larkin contends that Deane and the IPSC holds Israel “to a moral standard they don’t apply to any other country.”

This indicates that Larkin is either badly informed or intellectually dishonest. Palestine solidarity activists routinely illustrate how Israel violates international law. By definition, then, they are seeking to apply the same moral – and legal – standards to Israel that apply to every other country.

Larkin wraps up by labelling Irish supporters of Palestinian rights as “relics. Outdated, irrelevant and well past their sell-by dates. In terms of contemporary Irish identity, they are the symbolic equivalents of going on a date in a nursing home -- musty but romantic.”

His ageist put-down probably does not merit a detailed response. Suffice it to say that Palestine solidarity is one of the most vibrant political movements in the world today. Bigotry and apartheid should, on the other hand, be dumped in the cesspit of history.

●First published by The Electronic Intifada, 27 May 2012.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Lockheed Martin: proud to kill Palestinians?

It’s not every day you get the chance to grill a high-ranking representative of Lockheed Martin over its role in arming Israel. So I jumped at the opportunity to confront Chad Fulgham, a vice president of the corporation, with some unpalatable truths during his visit to Brussels today.

After Fulgham had addressed a conference dealing with the future of NATO, I responded to an invitation for questions from the floor.

“Mr Fulgham, in an advertisement published in the program of this event, Lockheed Martin says it is ‘proud to have contributed to smart defense with products such as the F-35’ fighter jets,” I said, looking directly at him. “Are you proud that in 2010, your company signed a contract to supply 20 of these fighter jets to the State of Israel?

“Are you proud that other weapons manufactured by your company have been used by Israel to butcher Palestinian civilians? Are you proud that your pay slip is stained with the blood of Palestinian children? And if you are not proud, can you give me one good reason why your company should not be prosecuted for crimes against humanity?”

No reply

“Thank you,” said Javier Solana, a former NATO top dog who was chairing the conference. “Next question, please.”

“Excuse me, Sir,” I interjected. “I would like an answer to my question. You are not secretary-general of NATO any more. You are a mere European citizen. I have exactly the same rights as you.”

(I regret my inference that senior NATO officials are more important than anyone else who has to use a bathroom every few hours; in mitigation, I plead nervousness and the fact I was ad-libbing).

Solana tried to proceed with the meeting. As there was no indication that Fulgham was willing to reply, I stood up and fetched my bag. “I am leaving in protest at the participation of Lockheed Martin,” I said, loudly.

“If you are leaving, you will not get a reply to your question,” Solana said.

“Well, is he going to answer it?” I said, turning again to Fulgham, who betrayed no emotion.

“I very much doubt it,” said Giles Merritt, a corporate lobbyist who organized the conference. “It has little to do with the topic we are discussing.”

“It has everything to do with it,” I said. “You people have been talking about complexity. The issues are actually very simple: a large proportion of the people in this room are warmongers. You profit from war and human rights abuses. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

With that parting remark, I headed towards the exit, ready to enjoy some rare Belgian sunshine.

“Battle-tested”

Lockheed Martin, it should be emphasized, is probably the single biggest beneficiary of US military aid to Israel. The F-35s it is delivering to Israel are intended to a replace F-16 jets as Israel’s principal attack weapon. Israel has the largest fleet of F-16s, many of them made by Lockheed, outside the US. These weapons of mass murder were used widely during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009.

Lockheed and Raytheon – another sponsor of today’s conference – are also joint developers of the aptly-named Hellfire missiles that Israel has “battle-tested” on innocent Palestinians.

Chad Fulgham’s résumé, incidentally, depicts him as the personification of America’s military-industrial complex. Having held risk assessment, “security” and technology posts for Lehman Brothers (remember them?), JP Morgan Chase, Arthur Andersen and IBM, he served with the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2008 until earlier this year. There, he oversaw the introduction of the Sentinel computer system, which was designed for the FBI by – you guessed it – Lockheed Martin.

His recruitment by a firm that had benefited from his work looks to me like a conflict of interest or, at the very least, a case of revolving doors between the private and public sectors. I didn’t, however, confront him on that. Though a serious matter, a conflict of interest is of far less consequence than how Lockheed arms Israel.

●First published by The Electronic Intifada, 25 May 2012.

Monday, May 21, 2012

How would Catherine Ashton know what's good for Iraq?

News stories often require a health warning. In the interests of transparency, the words “this is a rehashed press release” should appear at the beginning of numerous articles in the papers and websites owned by the mainstream media. TV bulletins should open with an announcement, saying “much of what you are about to hear reflects the interests of the powerful”.

Earlier this month the European Union signed a “partnership and cooperation” agreement with Iraq. From my research it appears that virtually every press report on the agreement was based primarily, if not solely, on a statement issued by Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief. This statement told us that the accord would be “good for Iraq”.

All of the journalists who wrote about this agreement did so without seeing its precise details. When I asked Ashton’s spokesman for a copy of its text, he told me it is not yet “publicly available”. Ashton and her team have put out their side of the story before anyone has a chance of contradicting them.

Why on earth should Catherine Ashton be trusted? Ashton was a British government minister in 2003. Her boss at the time, Tony Blair, decided (along with George Bush) to invade Iraq in violation of the United Nations Charter, which expressly forbids wars of aggression.

No apology

“Auditioning” for her current job in 2010, Ashton told MEPs she believed that bombing Iraq was “the right thing to do based on what I knew at the time”. She has not once apologised for supporting that war or sought to distance herself in any way from Blair. Indeed, she maintains regular contact with that war criminal in his current role as an “international peace envoy” (the title conferred on him by the British media) for the Middle East.

How can Ashton know what is “good for Iraq” when she backed an illegal occupation which devastated that country? Tommy Franks, one of the military “brains” behind the war, famously said that “we don’t do body counts”. But the death toll was certainly enormous. A 2006 study in The Lancet, an authoritative medical journal, estimated that the war had caused 600,000 civilian deaths. The organisation Just Foreign Policy now puts the figure at over 1.4 million. WikiLeaks has exposed Franks’s assertion as dishonest by releasing diplomatic cables which prove that the US has been keeping tabs on casualties. The Iraq War Logs, published by Julian Assange and his cohorts in 2010, document 109,000 violent deaths in the 2003 to 2009 period. More than 66,000 of those killed were categorised as civilians.

What exactly did Ashton know in 2003? As she was a minister in the Department of Education and Skills then, I assume she was not privy to all the “intelligence” at Blair’s disposal. Yet she would have been extremely naive if she believed that the war was really about those weapons of mass destruction Saddam was supposed to be hiding.

Good for BP?

Last year The Independent revealed that meetings were held between British government representatives, Shell and BP in the last few months of 2002. Records of these discussions say that BP was “desperate” to get its claws on Iraq’s oil reserves. The Foreign Office made a commitment to lobby Washington to ensure that British firms wouldn’t lose out when contracts were being divvied up after the invasion.

Ashton has just signed an agreement that is being touted as “good for Iraq”. Does she really mean it is good for BP and Shell?

An explanatory note on the website of the EU’s “external action service”, which Ashton heads, says the Union aims to ensure a minimum level of “predictability” and “legal certainty” for businesses working in Iraq. The new agreement follows a 2010 “memorandum of understanding” between the EU and Iraq on energy issues, which promised a “transparent investment framework”.

Those terms might sound innocuous. But if they are placed in the broader context of EU trade policy, they take on a more sinister meaning. The “Global Europe” blueprint championed by that other Blair acolyte Peter Mandelson, when he was the EU’s trade commissioner, maintained that every obstacle firms encounter when doing business abroad must be challenged. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it must therefore be concluded that Ashton wants Iraq’s oil and gas reserves to be exploited in a way that brings far greater rewards to Western corporations than to the people of Iraq.

In June 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported that an investment law introduced in Iraq exempted many investors from corporation taxes for up to 15 years and allowed them to repatriate profits. A constitutional ban on the privatisation of key state assets was overturned by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American body that oversaw the wholesale looting of the Iraqi economy in 2003 and 2004. A total of 47 firms are preparing for an auction of oil exploration licenses in Iraq on 30 May, according to Bloomberg. Iraq is on course to be the second largest producer in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries by the end of the year, the agency says.

The business press isn’t immune from the charms of spindoctors. But it does publish useful facts. Read them carefully and you get a more accurate view of how the world works than by copying and pasting Catherine Ashton’s propaganda.

How dare someone who supported an illegal war claim to know what’s good for Iraq.

●First published by New Europe, 20-26 May 2012.

Note à l’attention des chefs d’Etat de l’UE : immigrer n’est pas un crime

Envie d'un nouveau job ? Frontex, l'agence européenne pour la gestion de la coopération opérationnelle aux frontières extérieures, a annoncé qu'elle souhaitait recruter un officier aux droits fondamentaux. J'espère que le candidat retenu sera grassement rétribué. En effet, je ne connais pas d'organisme qui ait plus besoin que celui-ci de conseils sur comment se comporter avec des êtres humains en détresse.

Une étude annuelle sur « l'analyse des risqué » publiée par Frontex révèle que celle-ci peine à faire la différence entre les humains et les objets inanimés. L'étude traite d'abord de la question des migrations puis passe à « d'autres questions illégales » comme les voitures volées ou la contrebande de cigarettes. Or, qualifier tous ces actes d'illégaux est absurde. Alors que la contrebande de tabac est illégale, fuir la pauvreté ou les persécutions ne l'est pas. Les migrants et les demandeurs d'asile se voient souvent contraints de voyager avec de faux documents d'identité mais cela ne constitue rien de plus qu'une infraction administrative.

C'est très éclairant de comparer cette étude avec les résultats d'une enquête récente menée par les 47 pays du Conseil de l'Europe.

Frontex nous informe qu'entre janvier et mars 2011 quelque 20'000 Tunisiens ont « débarqué » sur l'île de Lampedusa au large de la Sicile. Bien que l'agence ait reconnu l'existence de troubles civils au Maghreb à ce moment-là avec, « comme consequence », l'exil de bon nombre de Tunisiens, elle se contredit elle-même quelques lignes plus loin. « Le flux de migrants tunisiens qui a traversé la frontière illégalement et dont le motif principal était de nature économique avait comme destination finale la France ». C'est ce que dit l'étude et ajoute que le taux « d'identification » de Tunisiens « en situation irrégulière » était plus élevé en 2011 qu'en 2010.

A l'opposé, le rapport du Conseil de l'Europe explique comment certains des Tunisiens interviewés par son équipe étaient des conjoints de ressortissants de pays de l'UE notamment du Danemark et des Pays-Bas. Malgré cela ils n'étaient pas parvenus à franchir les frontières de manière légale. Cette information en dit long sur les allégations de Tunisiens en situation irrégulière en Europe. Les autorités de l'UE interdiraient-elles aux migrants de rejoindre leurs conjoints en Europe ?

Une fois encore, la question de Lampedusa est à l'agenda du Parlement européen cette semaine. Une délégation de MEP doit rendre compte d'une visite qu'elle a effectuée en novembre 2011 dans un centre de rétention de migrants à Lampedusa. Depuis cette visite, des corps sans vie de migrants ont été retrouvés dans des embarcations à destination de Lampedusa. Dans un autre cas, 74 Somaliens ont été détenus trois jours dans un bateau de pêche tunisien au large de Lampedusa avant d'être refoulés vers la Tunisie.

Chaque année depuis deux ans environ 2000 personnes perdent la vie dans l'espoir d'atteindre les côtes européennes. Au lieu de tenter de trouver une solution à cette tragédie humaine, les politiques jouent à se surpasser les uns les autres pour voir qui prendra les mesures les plus inhumaines envers les plus faibles. Marine Le Pen s'est rendue à Lampedusa en 2011 et cette visite était l'occasion rêvée de déclarer que « les responsables européens détournent les yeux en tentant de minimiser le risque de flux migratoires ». Cela nous montre à quel point Nicolas Sarkozy a tenté, ces derniers temps, de se forger une image d’extrémiste aussi forte que celle de sa rivale d'extrême-droite.

Les propos de Marine Le Pen ne sont pas cohérents. Loin de détourner leur yeux les dirigeants européens usent de méthodes brutales pour empêcher les migrants d'atteindre le sol européen. En février 2012, la Cour Européenne des Droits de l'Homme a rendu un jugement contre l'Italie sur une affaire dans laquelle 200 migrants avaient été interceptés en 2009 au large des côtes de Lampedusa et refoulés vers la Libye. La CEDH à Strasbourg a jugé que cette opération militaire violait une disposition sur les expulsions collectives ainsi qu'un article de la Convention Européenne des Droits de l'Homme qui interdit le renvoi de migrants dans leur pays d'origine s'il y a risque de mauvais traitement ou d'oppression.

Ces expulsions ont eu lieu alors que Mouhammar Kadhafi était encore au pouvoir. Aussi bien l'Italie que l'Union européenne étaient pleinement satisfaites de son rôle de sous-traitant de l'UE dans les affaires de migration et de droit d'asile. Le fait que le concept même d'asile ne soit pas reconnu dans le droit libyen et que M. Kadhafi n'ait jamais signé la convention de 1951, qui constitue la pierre angulaire du droit international sur les réfugiés, ne semble déranger ni Bruxelles ni Rome qui considèrent cela comme un problème mineur.

Maintenant que Kadhafi n'est plus, l'Italie souhaite que les affaires habituelles avec les autorités de Tripoli reprennent. Deux mois à peine après sa nomination (non élu) au poste de premier ministre, Mario Monti s'est précipité en Libye. Son souci principal était de s'assurer que les contrats passés entre les entreprises italiennes et le régime Kadhafi étaient toujours en vigueur. Mais il y a fort à parier que la question des migrations a également été soulevée. Le ministre italien de l'Intérieur était en déplacement en Libye le mois dernier.

Sauver des vies humaines n'est pas la priorité ce certains hauts dignitaires italiens. En mars 2011, on a laissé périr en Méditerranée 61 migrants qui tentaient de passer de la Libye à Lampedusa. Le député néerlandais Tineke Strik a mené sa propre enquête sur cet incident. Il déclare avoir été surpris par les gardes-côtes italiens qui ne se sentent en aucun cas concernés par ce qui est arrivé au bateau.

L’Italie n'est pas la seule à abuser du droit d'asile. En mars 2012, la Belgique a refoulé trois demandeurs d'asile vers la Syrie après avoir rejeté leur demande. (un groupe constitué d'un Irakien et de deux Syriens). Ces expulsions sont un pied-de-nez à l'Agence des Nations-Unies pour les réfugiés (l'UNHCR) qui exhorte à un arrêt des expulsions vers la Syrie tant que la situation ne s'améliore pas.

En négligeant les lois internationales, ce sont nos pays qui agissent de manière illégale et non pas les personnes qui tentent d'atteindre les côtes européennes.

Traduction : www.michelcollon.info

Monday, May 14, 2012

A 21st century heresy: the ECB is not infallible

As a pious child, I was terrified of mortal sins. Every Monday morning, a giant schoolteacher enquired whether we had gone to church the previous day. If anyone admitted a failure to attend mass, our sadistic educator would conjure up images of a soul being blackened. Hell beckoned.

There is a new commandment that must be obeyed: thou shalt not criticise the European Central Bank.

Over the coming week, a group of left-wing activists plan to occupy and blockade – or blockupy - the ECB’s headquarters. Their intentions are that the protest will be peaceful; organisers have stated that the police are public servants and should not be considered as the enemy. In one of the worst affronts to civil liberties we have seen in Western Europe during recent times, the Frankfurt authorities have nonetheless banned the protest. Blockupy is verboten.

Within a few years of those Monday morning guilt trips, I was questioning the Catholic hierarchy’s teaching. I came to the conclusion that an institution which considered consensual sodomy as more troubling than child poverty had strayed far beyond the core tenets of Christianity (love, justice, tolerance, compassion). When one of the priests who taught me religious studies was convicted – a few decades later - of raping young boys, I didn’t feel vindicated. I felt ill.

Sackcloth and ashes

The ECB is in a similar, if not identical, position to that of the Catholic hierarchy during my childhood. Like a long list of popes, the bankers of Frankfurt regard themselves as infallible. We must take their medicine, even if it has unfortunate side effects. Nations who refuse to gulp it down are called “deficit sinners”. In an intriguing twist on the concept of sackcloth and ashes, they have been threatened with having their flags flown at half mast.

It is time to ask awkward questions.

What is sinful about spending on education (hopefully a more enlightened version of the one I received)? What is sinful about equipping hospitals? What is wrong with having a public transport system? Or post offices? Or libraries?

Why must these vital services be savaged on the orders of a bunch of suits?

If the men and women of Blockupy ask these questions, then they can count on my support. In the spirit of Christianity, I will even forgive the person who came up with the terrible name Blockupy.

What type of growth?

Perhaps the questions should go further.

Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, called recently for a “growth compact”. This call was welcomed by some left-leaning political figures and, inevitably, became a talking point in France’s presidential election campaign.

But what kind of growth does Draghi want? On 3 May, he detailed the key ingredients in his recipe. One of the first to be sprinkled into his mix would be labour market reforms, of the kind designed to increase “flexibility”. Translated into lay person’s terms, that means Draghi wants to allow employers pay peanuts and to be able to fire their workers with ease.

Draghi insisted that there is “absolutely no contradiction between a growth compact and a fiscal compact”. I assume he was referring here to the EU’s latest treaty, which will force sub-standard public services on many generations if it enters into force. Draghi thinks that requiring hospitals to limp by without medicines or equipment is a good idea. Instead of saying that explicitly, he used the fancy term “fiscal consolidation”. Like many jargon addicts, he might have hoped his choice of words would prevent his real agenda from being discovered. But he gave the game away when he said “it is certainly much better to consolidate through the reduction of expenditure rather than through increases in taxes.”

It is telling that Draghi didn’t feel any inclination to elaborate on that point. He was merely reciting another commandment that we must obey: thou shalt not tax the rich.

The need for economic growth is something that seems to unite politicians, regardless of whether they are far-left, far-right or middle of the road. But if economic growth relies on the ingredients favoured by Mario Draghi, then I don’t want it.

Bold questions needed

Earlier this month, I attended a conference titled “EU in Crisis”. It featured the “progressive” economist Trevor Evans, who did a fine job explaining why Draghi’s and Angela Merkel’s prescriptions are ruinous. Yet when Evans was asked if the idea of growth needed to be rethought , he accepted that this is a crucial question but signalled that it was not the right time to ask it.

I respectfully disagree.

Draghi and his old mates in Goldman Sachs are using the economic crisis to force through measures that they would not get away with under different circumstances. Nothing seems to be off limits to them. Elected governments should be vassals of anonymous bankers, according to their blueprint.

If they are not afraid to take bold steps, we should not be afraid to ask bold questions. The notion that gross domestic product must constantly grow is a dangerous one. To achieve growth, governments and industries depend on the relentless exploitation of labour and resources. The pursuit of growth at all costs is a major contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss. These issues are not separate from the economic crisis; they result from the same tunnel vision.

Catholic publications are still censored by the Vatican. Frankfurt bans protests against the ECB.

We should defy the gagging orders. Some sins must be committed.

●First published by New Europe, 13-19 May 2012.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Memo to EU leaders: migration is not a crime

Fancy a new job?

Frontex, the EU’s border control agency, has announced it will soon recruit a fundamental rights officer. I hope the successful candidate will be handsomely rewarded. Few bodies are more in need of advice about how to treat human beings in distress.

An annual “risk analysis” paper published by Frontex during April indicates it has difficulty distinguishing between people and inanimate objects. The paper deals with migration, then turns to “other illegal issues” such as stolen vehicles and cigarette smuggling. Bracketing all of these as “illegal issues” is perverse. Whereas trading contraband tobacco is a crime, trying to flee poverty or persecution is not. Migrants and asylum-seekers often have to travel on false documents but that is no more than an administrative offence.

It is illuminating to compare this paper with the results of a recent investigation on migrants arriving in Italy by the 47-country Council of Europe.

Frontex informs us that between January and March last year, some 20,000 Tunisians landed on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa. Although the agency acknowledges that there had been “civil unrest” in North Africa at the time and large numbers of Tunisians left their country “as a result”, it contradicts itself a few pages later. “The flow of Tunisian migrants who crossed the border illegally appeared to be mostly economically-driven, with most heading to France as their final destination,” it says, adding that there was a significantly higher rate of “detection” for “illegally-staying” Tunisians in 2011 than in 2010.

Tearing families apart

The Council of Europe report, by contrast, refers to how some Tunisians its team interviewed in Lampedusa were married to citizens of EU member states, particularly Denmark and the Netherlands, yet were unable to enter the Union by regular channels. This puts the allegation that Tunisians are living illegally in the EU in an entirely new perspective. Do EU authorities now forbid people from travelling to sleep in the same bed as their spouses?

Lampedusa is on the agenda of the European Parliament once again this week. A delegation of MEPs is following up on a visit it undertook to the centres where migrants are detained on Lampedusa in November last. A number of dead bodies have been found on boats arriving in Lampedusa since that visit occurred. In another incident, 74 Somalis were kept for three days on a Tunisian fishing boat south of Lampedusa before being returned to Tunisia. About 2,000 people have died annually over the past two years while trying to reach Europe by sea. Rather than addressing this human tragedy, some politicians compete with each other to see who can be nastiest towards the world’s vulnerable. Marine Le Pen made a trip to Lampedusa during 2011; this afforded her an opportunity to accuse the European authorities of “averting their gaze” to migration flows. It is telling that Nicolas Sarkozy has spent the past couple of weeks trying to paint himself as just as extreme as his Front National rival.

Le Pen’s claim doesn’t stand up. Far from “averting their gaze” to migration, authorities have used brutal methods to prevent migrants reaching our shores. In February this year, the European Court of Human Rights found against Italy in a case involving 200 migrants who were intercepted at sea off Lampedusa in 2009 and then forced back to Libya. The Strasbourg-based court ruled that the military operation violated a ban on collective expulsions, as well as a clause in the European Convention of Human Rights, stating that individuals should not be sent to countries where they are likely to be at risk of ill-treatment or oppression.

Gadaffi: a subcontractor for Fortress Europe

Muammar Gadaffi was still in power when those expulsions occurred. Both Italy and the European Commission were happy for him to act as a kind of subcontractor for the EU’s asylum and migration system. The fact that the concept of asylum wasn’t recognised in Libyan law and that he had never signed up to a 1951 convention that forms the cornerstone of international refugee law was viewed as no more than a minor irritant in Brussels and Rome.

Now that Gadaffi is dead, Italy is keen to restore “business as usual” relations with the Tripoli authorities. Barely two months after becoming an unelected prime minister, Mario Monti hotfooted it to Libya. His chief concern was to ensure that contracts signed between Italian firms and the Gadaffi regime remained valid. But you can be sure that migration issues are being discussed too; the interior minister in Monti’s government was in Libya last month.

Saving human lives is not a priority for some senior figures in Italy. In March last year, 61 African migrants on their way from Libya to Lampedusa were left to die in the Mediterranean. Tineke Strik, a member of the Dutch Senate who has investigated the incident, has expressed astonishment at how the Italian border guards “felt no responsibility whatsoever” to verify what happened to the boat.

Italy is by no means alone in abusing the rights to asylum. Belgium expelled three people to Syria in March this year after rejecting their asylum claims. (One of these was Iraqi, the other two Syrian). The expulsions amounted to an “up yours” salute to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), which has urged a halt on forced returns to Syria until the political situation improves.

By disregarding international law, it is our governments that are behaving illegally, not the people sailing towards our shores.

●First published by New Europe, 6-12 May 2012.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Les diamants sont-ils les meilleurs amis d’Israël ?

La condamnation cette semaine de l’ancien président du Liberia, Charles Taylor, pour crimes contre l’humanité a incité certains journalistes à rappeler à quel point son procès fut brièvement étincelant. Les preuves apportées par le top-model Naomi Campbell, qui avait reçu des pierres précieuses de Taylor, ont contribué à associer ce dernier à la contrebande des diamants.

Il n’est que légitime de dénoncer le rôle du commerce du diamant dans le financement des conflits africains les plus sanglants. Mais pourquoi observe-t-on un silence quasi-total sur l’importance des diamants pour Israël, dont l’économie s’appuie sur l’oppression et l’apartheid ?

En guise de préparation à quelques conférences que j’ai données en Belgique durant la dernière quinzaine, j’ai examiné les connexions entre Israël et le secteur anversois du diamant. Les résultats de mes recherches m’ont sidéré.

En septembre dernier, le Premier ministre belge d’alors, Yves Leterme, a entrepris une visite au Moyen-Orient, au cours de laquelle il a célébré l’importance du commerce du diamant entre la Belgique etIsraël. Leterme a fait état de données montrant que ce commerce bilatéral du diamant portait sur quelque 2 milliards d’euros (soit 2,6 milliards de dollars) par an.

Une contribution d’un milliard de dollars

Si l’on considère que la totalité du commerce de l’Union européenne avec Israël a représenté aux alentours de 20 milliards d’euros en 2009, cela nous montre qu’environ 10 pour 100 des affaires entre l’UE et Israël pourraient passer par Anvers.

Leterme a négligé de faire remarquer que les diamants constituent une importante source de revenus pour l’armée israélienne. Ainsi, je lui recommanderais de lire l’ouvrage Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation (La complicité du monde des entreprises dans l’occupation israélienne), qui s’appuie sur le travail du Tribunal Russell pour la Palestine. L’un des contributeurs de cet ouvrage, l’économiste israélien de gauche Shir Hever, prétend que chaque fois qu’Israël vend un diamant à l’étranger, une partie de l’argent impliqué dans la transaction contribue à financer l’armée israélienne.

Hever a calculé que les diamants rapportent au moins 1 milliard de dollars chaque année à la guerre d’Israël et à l’industrie centrée sur l’occupation.

Le commerce d’une moitié environ des diamants polis dans le monde passe par Anvers. Et au moins deux des trois plus grosses sociétés diamantaires israéliennes - AA Rachminov et MID House of Diamonds – ont des bureaux dans le port belge.

Une contradiction fondamentale

Depuis 2003, l’UE est active dans le Kimberley Process, un forum international censé empêcher le commerce international du diamant de contribuer à la guerre et aux violations des droits de l’homme. L’UE exige même que les diamants passant par Anvers et autres centres importants du commerce des pierres précieuses, comme Londres et Amsterdam, soient dotés de certificats d’origine prouvant qu’ils ne sont pas entachés par l’un ou l’autre conflit.

Pour, ici, il y a une contradiction fondamentale. La définition de « diamant du sang » ou « diamant de la guerre » telle que la manient l’UE et les États-Unis ne s’applique qu’aux diamants bruts, et non aux diamants taillés et polis exportés par Israël. Une réunion des participants au Kimberley Process, prévue pour le mois prochain, est censée plancher sur la nécessité de modifier cette définition. Les États-Unis, qui président de Kimberley Process depuis janvier, ont déclaré qu’ils s’opposeraient à l’élargissement du concept des diamants de la guerre aux diamants taillés et polis.

Anvers pourrait bientôt assumer une place plus importante encore dans le commerce mondial du diamant.

En avril, The International Herald Tribune faisait état de plans visant à faire des diamants une marchandise disponible pour les investisseurs, de la même façon que l’on a commercialisé l’or via des fonds sur les échanges. Suite à une proposition étudiée par la Commission américaine sur les titres et les échanges, le premier fonds d’échange couvert par des diamants impliquerait la mise en stock de diamants d’un carat dans une chambre forte à Anvers. Un index quotidien des valeurs attribuées aux diamants serait instauré.

De même, un luxueux magazine diffusé à Bruxelles présente également dans son tout dernier numéro un article de fond sur Anvers. Comme le reste de la Belgique s’enfonce dans la récession, « les 57 milliards de dollars du secteur du diamant à Anvers font du bruit », estime le magazine.

Je soutiens entièrement la campagne en faveur du boycott, du désinvestissement et des sanctions (BDS)contre Israël. Il est toutefois possible que la campagne BDS ne se soit pas encore penchée sur le soutien d’Anvers à l’apartheid israélien d’une façon aussi minutieuse qu’elle ne l’aurait dû et ce, malgré le fait que la présence d’importantes sociétés diamantaires israéliennes à Anvers pourrait constituer une excellente cible aux protestations, voire même à l’action directe.

Je ne puis prétendre à la moindre expertise à propos du commerce du diamant. Mais je sais comment identifier l’hypocrisie. Et c’est précisément ce que j’ai découvert dans la façon dont les diamants en provenance d’Afrique sont considérés avec suspicion, alors qu’on ne dit pour ainsi dire rien de la façon dont les diamants contribuent à financer l’apartheid israélien.

Traduction : www.pourlapalestine.be

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Are diamonds Israel's best friend?

The conviction of former Liberian president Charles Taylor for crimes against humanity this week prompted some journalists to recall how his trial was briefly glamorous. Evidence given by “supermodel” Naomi Campbell of receiving dirty gem stones from Taylor helped link him to the smuggling of diamonds.

It is only proper that the role of the diamond trade in fuelling some of Africa’s bloodiest conflicts should be exposed. But why is there a virtual silence about the importance of diamond’s to Israel, which has an economy built on oppression and apartheid?

In preparation for a few talks I gave in Belgium over the past fortnight, I have been examining the connections between Israel and the diamond district in Antwerp. The results of my research leave me stunned.

In September last year, Belgium’s acting prime minister Yves Leterme undertook a visit to the Middle East, where he celebrated the importance of the diamond trade between Belgium and Israel. Leterme cited data indicating that this bilateral trade in diamonds is worth €2 billion ($2.6 billion) per year.

A billion dollar contribution

If you consider that the entire European Union trade with Israel came to about €20 billion in 2009, this indicates that about one-tenth of all business between the EU and Israel could pass through Antwerp.

Leterme neglected to point out that diamonds are a significant source of revenue for the Israeli military. So I would recommend that he reads the book Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation, which is based on the work of the Russell Tribunal for Palestine. One of its contributors, the Israeli left-wing economist Shir Hever, argues that every time Israel sells a diamond abroad, some of the money involved helps finance the Israeli military. Hever has calculated that diamonds bring at least $1 billion every year to Israel’s war and occupation industry.

About half of all polished diamonds in the world are traded in Antwerp. And at least two of the top three leading companies in Israel’s diamond industry -- AA Rachminov and MID House of Diamonds -- have offices in the Belgian city.

Basic contradiction

Since 2003, the EU has been active in the Kimberley Process, an international forum which is supposed to prevent the international diamond trade from contributing to war and human rights abuses. The EU even requires that diamonds passing through Antwerp and other major centers of the gem trade like London and Amsterdam must have certificates of origin to show that they are “conflict-free.”

Yet there is a basic contradiction here. The definition of “blood diamond” or “conflict diamond” followed by the EU and the US only applies to raw diamonds, not to the cut and polished diamonds exported by Israel.

A meeting of the Kimberley Process participants scheduled for next month is supposed to consider whether this definition should be changed. The United States, which has been chairing the Kimberley Process since January, has stated that it would be opposed to widening the concept of conflict diamonds to cut and polished diamonds.

Antwerp may soon assume an even more pivotal place in the global diamond trade. In April, The International Herald Tribune reported on plans to make diamonds a commodity available to investors in the way that gold has been traded through funds on exchanges. Under a proposal being studied by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the first diamond-backed exchanged fund would involve the storage of one-carat diamonds in an Antwerp vault. An index whereby the diamonds are given values each day would be established.

Together, a glossy magazine distributed in Brussels, also has a feature on Antwerp in its current issue. As the rest of Belgium sinks into a recession, “the $57 billion diamond business in Antwerp is humming,” according to the magazine.

I fully support the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Perhaps, though, the BDS campaign hasn’t yet examined Antwerp’s support for Israeli apartheid as forensically as it should have. That is despite how the presence of major Israeli diamond companies in Antwerp should provide a good target for protests and possibly even direct action.

It would be wrong of me to claim any real expertise on the diamond trade. But I do know how to identify hypocrisy. And that’s precisely what I’ve detected in the way diamonds from Africa are regarded with suspicion, while almost nothing is said about how diamonds help bankroll Israeli apartheid.

●First published by The Electronic Intifada, 3 May 2012.

La course est lancée : sus aux ressources de la Birmanie

Les biographes comparent habituellement Aung San Suu Kyi et Nelson Mandela pour des raisons évidentes. Tous deux ont fait preuve d'une bravoure immense ; tous deux ont enduré de nombreuses années de réclusion sur ordre de régimes brutaux ; tous deux s'expriment bien et sont photogéniques.

Je crains qu'il ne soit bientôt possible de trouver un autre parallèle entre eux. A la suite de sa libération, Mandela et ses camarades ont été persuadés de transformer l'Afrique du Sud en pays de rêve pour les multinationales mondialisées. L'ANC s'est montré tellement « généreux » en permettant aux investisseurs étrangers de réaliser leurs bénéfices hors du pays qu'en 2001 George Soros déclarait au Forum Economique Mondial à Davos, en Suisse : « L'Afrique du Sud est maintenant aux mains du capital international ». Selon certains indicateurs, les pauvres sont devenus de plus en plus pauvres.

Un processus similaire est-il en cours en Birmanie ?

Le 1er avril dernier, le jour de l'élection de Suu Kyi, un hôtel de 12 étages de style colonial à Pnom-Penh accueillait le deuxième Sommet économique mondial entre l'Union européenne et l'Association des Nations du sud-est asiatique (ASEAN). Les participants, et notamment le Commissaire européen au commerce Karel De Gucht, étaient invités à un événement en marge, intitulé « Building Business in Myanmar », (nom officiel de la Birmanie).

N'ayant pas été informé auparavant par les organisateurs de l'événement, Vriens&Partners, j'ai passé quelque temps à examiner qui est derrière cette boîte. J'ai fini par trouver un article de 2009 du magazine PublicAffairsAsia disant qu'il s'agit d'un projet conjoint entre Hans Vriens (ex-huile de la firme de communications APCO) et NokeKiroyan, directeur indonésien du géant minier Rio Tinto. En 2008, Rio Tinto était exclu du fonds de pension public norvégien en raison des dégâts environnementaux que la compagnie anglo-australienne avait causés en Papouasie occidentale (partie officielle de l'Indonésie).

Penser que Vriens & Kiroyan ont une motivation altruiste en faisant la promotion des possibilités d'investissement en Birmanie, ce serait faire preuve d'une incurable naïveté.

Au début du mois, Human Rights Watch déclarait qu'il favoriserait une détente graduelle des sanctions de l'UE sur la Birmanie mais que des mesures de restriction devraient rester en place pour le moment contre certains secteurs de l'économie birmane. Les mines, les pierres précieuses et le bois sont toujours des monopoles tenus par les militaires.

Rio Tnto est le principal actionnaire individuel de la firme canadienne Ivanhoe, qui a conclu en 1994 un accord pour exploiter le gisement de cuivre Monya en Birmanie. Treize ans plus tard Ivanhoe se serait retiré du projet et aurait revendu ses avoirs Monya à un trust indépendant enregistré au Canada. Mais récemment Wikileaks a publié une dépêche diplomatique révélant que la participation de 50 % à Monya était en réalité vendue à la junte militaire birmane. Le régime a ensuite revendu les parts à un consortium dirigé par Norinco, une firme chinoise d'armements. Tay Za, « un ami du régime » (comme le décrit la dépêche) a été l'intermédiaire de l'accord et devait empocher 50 millions de dollars ; il fut l'un des cadres dirigeants birmans à faire l'objet de sanctions UE.

Vriens & Partners a un bureau à Rangoon (également appelée Yangon), la capitale birmane. Dans une lettre de février adressée au Financial Times, son délégué en chef sur place Romain Caillaud écrivait : « Les sociétés occidentales ont clairement beaucoup d'alliés au sein de l'élite des affaires et de la politique du Myanmar ainsi que dans le reste de la population, et il en viendra bien d'autres une fois que ces sociétés implanteront leur présence dans le pays. Ayant vécu et travaillé à Yangon depuis plus de quatre ans maintenant, je puis dire que les sociétés occidentales ont une image positive ici. Leurs investissements sont vus par les citoyens birmans comme étant faits de manière plus responsable que ceux effectués par certaines compagnies asiatiques non bloquées par des sanctions et qui, à long terme, ne devront probablement pas affronter de pressions des politiques et des consommateurs afin qu'elles se comportent de manière plus responsable au Myanmar ».

Cette notion que les entrepreneurs européens ont plus d'éthique que leurs homologues chinois ou indiens est inconsistante.

Quand David Cameron a fait sa tournée dans le sud-est asiatique, notamment en Birmanie, au début du mois, il était acccompagné de cadres de chez Shell, BAE Systems et BHP Billiton. Il faudrait un degré considérable de culot pour défendre la spoliation du Delta du Niger par Shell ou les dessous de table que BAE a accordés à la famille royale saoudienne en échange de contrats, sous prétexte que les Chinois pourraient faire pire.

BHP Billiton, une fusion entre exploitants de ressources australiens et sud-africains – a une forte connexion historique avec l'apartheid. Gencor, la compagnie apparentée à Billiton, gérait la mine d'or de Kingcross, là où est survenu le pire accident de toute l'histoire minière de l'Afrique du Sud, en 1986. Quelque 177 travailleurs ont été tués dans un incendie souterrain. Jusque dans la mort, ils ont été confrontés à la discrimination : les victimes blanches ont été nommées ; les seuls détails donnés pour les noirs fut le nombre de ceux qui appartenaient aux tribus Sotho, Xhosa et autres.

Je n'ai pas d'objection à la suspension ni à la levée pas à pas des sanctions de l'UE sur la Birmanie. Il est clair que le pays aura besoin à la fois d'aide et d'investissements s'il s'agit d'une transition réussie de la dictature à la démocratie (ou à ce qui passe pour de la démocratie de nos jours).

Mais il ne devrait pas y avoir d'illusions sur ce qui se passe réellement ici. Loin de chercher à améliorer le sort de la population birmane en général, quelques sociétés convoitent lascivement les ressources de la Birmanie. En février, BusinessEurope, le plus puissant groupe d'entreprises à Bruxelles, pressait de lever les sanctions pour des raisons pragmatiques. Son argument était du style : tout le monde reçoit une tranche de la Birmanie alors pourquoi pas nous ? « Appelez-moi juste un Thatchériste » raillait en 1996 Thabo Mbeki, le successeur de Mandela, quand il annonça les plans pour réduire les dépenses publiques et accroître les privatisations. J'espère seulement que la Birmanie n'a pas une Thatchériste qui attend en coulisses.

Traduction: www.michelcollon.info