The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Liberia:
Imperialist pillage amid civil war

Aug 25, 2003

From the photos it seems that the population of Monrovia greeted the first contingents of the international force with some joy. Under the sponsorship of the U.N. and West African countries, these contingents are supposed to put an end to the civil war from which Liberia has suffered for 14 years. The dictator Charles Taylor finally agreed to give up power, but only after he designated his successor and got the international court to drop the charges against him. The representatives of the great powers got what they wanted, which wasn't the well being of the population, but of their own corporations, mostly U.S. corporations, which have the biggest presence in Liberia. This West African country has been entirely under U.S. domination since its birth in 1822.

Liberia was established by U.S. philanthropic societies to permit the return of freed slaves to Africa. But behind what might seem like a generous objective, this operation gave the U.S. government a way to implant itself on African soil and to participate in the plunder of the continent.

Liberian leaders offered the country's natural resources to big U.S. firms. In 1926, the tire company Firestone was given almost a million acres for the exploitation of rubber. It benefitted from forced labor imposed on the local population by Liberian leaders. Even today, Bridgestone-Firestone continues to exploit 50,000 acres of rubber. The second important natural resource of the country, iron ore, is so abundant and rich that it placed Liberia among the principal world exporters of iron up to the 1980's. It is also under the domination of U.S. companies.

Up to 1980, the Afro-American descendants of the freed slaves represented a very tiny minority (barely 5% of the population), but controlled political power and the wealth of the country. Although Liberia got its independence in 1847, the Africans there were second class citizens, exploited and oppressed – and didn't gain the right to vote until 1945.

In 1980, the military coup d'etat led by Samuel Doe overthrew the power of the Afro-Americans. He had the approval of U.S. imperialism, which was weary of supporting a regime with pan-African posturing, which was less and less capable of containing the discontent of the poor. Doe came to power by promising to end the political monopoly of the Afro-American elite. He made agreements with leaders of the different ethnic groups, trying to assure himself a certain social base. Together they turned all of Liberia into a field for plundering.

One of his lieutenants, Charles Taylor, was given control over central purchasing of the government. Because of his tendency to appropriate a good part of the money which passed through his hands during the three years he held this position, Taylor was nicknamed "superglue!" When Samuel Doe accused him of grabbing $900,000, Taylor fled to the United States.

The Doe regime became bloodier and bloodier to keep a poorer and poorer population under its yoke. Charles Taylor returned to Liberia at the end of 1989, putting himself forward as the champion of a struggle to overthrow the dictatorship. He won support from a population sickened by the regime. In his war against Doe, Taylor got material aid from Guinea and especially the Ivory Coast, where he established bases of his guerilla forces.

A civil war has raged in Liberia ever since. The different factions, constituted on ethnic bases, divided up the territory and its natural resources. They were armed by the different imperialist camps. The consequences were terrible for the population: 200,000 dead out of three million inhabitants. 80% of the population has lived for years in conditions of extreme destitution, either in exile in neighboring countries or in Monrovia. In 1991, the war was extended to neighboring Sierra Leone where it lasted for 10 years. For a decade, the population of Sierra Leone suffered horrors exactly like what Belgian soldiers had done in the Congo – amputation of arms.

In 1997, U.S., French and British imperialism decided to calm things down and, helping to impose Charles Taylor on the country, supported his election as the president of the republic. But Taylor was caught up by the war he had unleashed in Sierra Leone, profiting from the pillage of diamonds which that country has in abundance. LURD (Liberians United for Reconstruction and Democracy) is the armed faction which for the moment won the last round of the civil war. It counts in its ranks elements belonging to Sierra Leone president Tejah, doubtlessly with the approval of British imperialism, which supports him.

The imperialist leaders pretend that throwing out Taylor is finally going to permit the establishment of peace in Liberia. But what are the chiefs of the different factions linked to Charles Taylor or to the others going to do? In any case, the entire history of the country shows that the Liberian population can expect nothing from the United States and the other imperialist powers – arsonists who want people to believe their goal is to extinguish the fire they themselves set.