Jul 28, 2003
For over a hundred years Liberia has been an American colony in Africa in all but name, particularly for Firestone and Goodyear Tire. Today Firestone's 35,000 acre rubber plantation in Harbel, which calls itself the world's largest, pays its workers $2.53 a day for eight hours a day, six days a week. At work, they are sprayed with Difolatan, which stimulates latex, but is a known carcinogen. After work, they live in cardboard and metal shanties held together by scrap wood and wire, without water or electricity. Children play in a stinking trash dump hidden away from the neatly landscaped estates of the company's managers.
Liberia's lumber industry is dominated by a Dutch capitalist and former drug dealer Gus Kouwenhoven. The forests are being cut down at a rapid rate, while he uses the roads built to extract lumber to run arms to supply Charles Taylor's army inside the neighboring country of Sierra Leone, splitting the profits with Taylor.
Liberia has long provided cheap registration for shipping companies. Today, 1700 ships are registered under the Liberian flag, as well as a third of the world's oil tankers. This enables wealthy foreign ship owners, including many from the U.S., to fly the Liberian flag while they employ cheap labor from various poor countries, paying Liberia almost nothing in taxes or fees.
The presence of big U.S. corporations in Liberia for generations has left the people desperately poor. It's estimated that economic production is only $200 per person, one of the lowest levels in the world. Literacy is only 15%. Unemployment is about 70% among the people who try to work for wages.
The interests of these corporations have been protected by military dictatorships which ran the country; ethnic divisions were exacerbated by these dictators.
The fighting that has gone on inside Liberia for a few decades has made the situation worse, wrecking havoc on the population, with famine and disease, civilians subject to extortions, the systematic rape of women, the forcible drafting of young boys, torture and destruction. Due to the fighting, a third of the population has been displaced from their homes and there are over a million people now in the capital Monrovia, which has had no running water or electricity for 13 years. In the last few weeks, some 58,000 people have been living in a sports stadium with its 45 toilets blocked up. Malaria, fever, anemia and pneumonia are widespread. Many thousands of children have been separated from their parents.
The U.S. government today says it deplores the violence in Liberia. But this uncontrolled violence comes from the imperialist presence in Liberia and years of support to the dictators in power.