Top 10 Charter Communities by Market Share
Equity Overlooked: Charter Schools and Civil Rights Policy
Center for Education Reform’s 2009 Accountability Report
Teacher Cooperatives


Kids in Guinea Study Under Airport Lamps / by Rukmini Callimachi

The sun has set in one of the world’s poorest nations and as the floodlights come on at G’bessi International Airport, the parking lot begins filling with children. The long stretch of pavement has the feel of a hushed library, each student sitting quietly, some moving their lips as their eyes traverse their French-language notes. It’s exam season in Guinea, ranked 160th out of 177 countries on the United Nations’ development index, and schoolchildren flock to the airport every night because it’s among the only places where they’ll always find the lights on. Groups of elementary and high school students begin heading to the airport at dusk, hoping to reserve a coveted spot under the oval light cast by one of a dozen lampposts in the parking lot. Some come from over an hour’s walk away. The lot is teeming with girls and boys by the time Air France Flight 767 rounds the Gulf of Guinea at an hour-and-a-half before midnight. They hardly look up from their notes as the Boeing jet begins its spiraling descent over the dark city, or as the newly arrived passengers come out, shoving luggage carts over the cracked pavement. “I used to study by candlelight at home but that hurt my eyes. So I prefer to come here. We’re used to it,” says 18-year-old Mohamed Sharif, who sat under the fluorescent beam memorizing notes on the terrain of Mongolia for the geography portion of his college entrance test.

Only about a fifth of Guinea’s 10 million people have access to electricity and even those that do experience frequent power cuts. With few families able to afford generators, students long ago discovered the airport. Parents require girls to be chaperoned to the airport by an older brother or a trusted male friend. Even young children are allowed to stay out late under the fluorescent bulbs, so long as they return in groups. “My parents don’t worry about me because they know I’m here to seek my future,” says 10-year-old Ali Mara, busy studying a diagram of the cephalothorax, the body of an insect. They sit by age group with 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds on a curb in a traffic island and teenagers on the concrete pilings flanking the national and international terminals. There are few cars to disturb their studies. Most are working on memorizing their notes, struggling to commit to memory entire paragraphs dictated by their teachers on the history of Marxism, or the unraveling of colonial Africa, or the geology of Siberia. Tests are largely feats of memorization, a relic from Guinea’s French colonial rulers. According to U.N. data, the average Guinean consumes 89 kilowatt-hours per year – the equivalent to keeping a 60-watt light bulb burning for two months – while the typical American burns up about 158 times that much. The students at the airport consider themselves lucky. Those living farther away study at gas stations and come home smelling of gasoline. Others sit on the curbs outside the homes of affluent families, picking up the crumbs of light falling out of their illuminated living rooms. “We have an edge because we live near the airport,” says 22-year-old Ismael Diallo, a university student.

It’s an edge in preparing for an exam in a country where unemployment is rampant, inflation has pushed the price of a large bag of rice to $30 and a typical government functionary earns around $60 a month. The lack of electricity is “a geological scandal,” says Michael McGovern, a political anthropologist at Yale University, quoting a phrase first used by a colonial administrator to describe Guinea’s untapped natural wealth. The Oregon-sized territory has rivers which if properly harnessed could electrify the region, McGovern says. It has gold, diamonds, iron and half the world’s reserves of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum. For 23 years, the former French colony has been under the grip of Lansana Conte, a reclusive and temperamental army general who grabbed the presidency in a 1984 coup. Suffering from a heart ailment, Conte has repeatedly traveled abroad for medical treatment. Mass demonstrations earlier this year called for his resignation because of his health and the deteriorating economy, but he instead declared martial law. Eighteen-year-old Ousman Conde admits that sitting on the concrete piling is not comfortable, but says passing his upcoming exam could open doors. “It hurts,” he says, looking up from his notes on Karl Marx for the politics portion of the test. “But we prefer this hurt to the hurt of not doing well in our exams.”

The Best Development Plan in the World Originated With…the British Empire?

The secret to turning a poor nation into a rich one can’t be found in a World Bank report. It wasn’t hatched in the corridors of the International Monetary Fund, either. It came from the British Empire. That is one way, at least, of interpreting Stanford economist Paul Romer’s new plan for turning economically backward countries like Cuba into engines of growth like China. Experts have long known that the traditional tools of development don’t work: free trade, foreign investment, and charity have failed as many countries as they’ve helped. The rot in a dysfunctional country is at its core—in the laws, institutions, and informal rules that govern daily life.

How to fix a problem so fundamental? Let a rich country take over part of a poor one. The hope, says Romer, is that the superior norms of the developed country will take root abroad. He calls his plan Charter Cities and illustrates it with a thought experiment. Imagine if the U.S. closes its prison at Guantánamo Bay and hands the land over to Canada, which agrees to develop it. “A new city blossoms,” writes Romer.

It does for Cuba what Hong Kong, administered by the British, did for China; it connects Cuba to the global economy. To help the city flourish, the Canadians encourage immigration. It is a place with Canadian judges and Mounties that happily accepts millions of immigrants. Some of the new residents could be Cuban émigrés who return from North America. Others might be Haitians who come work in garment factories that firms no longer feel safe bringing into Haiti. The new city gives the Haitians their only chance to choose to live under a system of law that offers safety and opportunity.

Private contractors rush in to build airports and infrastructure, lured by the prospect of rising property values. Multinational firms open factories, attracted by the proximity to low-cost labor and the certainty of the Canadian legal system. Eventually, Cuban authorities decide to replicate the experiment across the island, opening new, Guantánamo-like “special economic zones,” much as mainland China did starting in 1979, taking the Hong Kong model to Shenzhen and beyond. When played out on a global scale, “the gains from doing this are just enormous,” says Romer.

Such a fanciful idea might be easily dismissed if it weren’t coming from such an economic heavyweight. Romer transformed the field of growth theory in the 1980s, and his name is peppered throughout macroeconomic textbooks; he’s been mentioned as a potential Nobel Prize recipient. “There’s a thin line between revolutionary and crazy,” says NYU economist and development expert William Easterly. “Paul Romer has been adept at walking that line throughout his career, staying just out of the crazy part. He’s still tiptoeing along that line with this new idea.”

Still, there’s a pie-in-the-sky grandiosity to the scheme that elides some major stumbling blocks. One problem, admits Romer, is the parallel between charter cities and colonialism. Great Britain, for instance, would surely have qualms about taking over a few hundred acres of coastline in Ghana, where the legacy of slavery is still deeply felt. Romer says the similarities are surface level only—there’s no coercion involved in a charter city since it would be founded on empty or near-empty land, and anyone who lives there would do so by choice. Charter cities would only be considered in countries that welcome them. But the colonial parallel would certainly still rankle some. One way to mitigate the PR problem would be to let a group of rich countries administer the charter area; that way, no single nation could be accused of exploiting the host.

But the image problem hints at a more basic choke point: politics. “What’s clever about Paul’s idea is he’s saying, here’s a totally brand-new government we can invent from scratch and make it compete with existing governments,” says Easterly. “Anyone who doesn’t like their existing government can move. That’s an appealing notion. We’re so sick of governments that mistreat us that it’s kind of sticking them in the eye to say, here, we’re going to come up with a new one.” But though political competition is a seductive idea, it’s also a threat to existing powers, some of whom would surely try to block it. And globally orchestrated projects have a very low success rate—just look at the molasseslike progression toward a climate-change agreement. “International politics is a swamp,” says Easterly. “Things that involve international politics do not inspire a great deal of optimism in me.”

Nonetheless, Romer is attacking the idea with the zeal of a, er, missionary. He’s left his teaching position at Stanford and founded a nonprofit to pursue Charter Cities full time. He says he’s already in talks with potential host countries, although he won’t divulge which ones. Romer is confident that, despite the challenges, we’ll see the first charter cities within a few years. For the world’s poor and oppressed, that will be none too soon.

Paul Romer
email : paul.romer [at] stanford [dot] edu

students do homework under the dim lights of a parking lot at G’bessi Airport in Conakry, Guinea

For richer, for poorer
by Paul Romer / 27th January 2010

Forget aid—people in the poorest countries like Haiti need new cities with different rules. And developed countries should be the ones that build them

On the first day of TEDGlobal, a conference for technology enthusiasts in Oxford in July 2009, a surprise guest was unveiled: Gordon Brown. He began his presentation with a striking photograph of a vulture watching over a starving Sudanese girl. The internet, he said, meant such shocking images circulated quickly around the world, helping to mobilise a new global community of aid donors. Brown’s talk ended with a call to action: developed countries should give more aid to fight poverty.

When disaster strikes—as in the recent Haiti earthquake—the prime minister is right. Even small amounts of aid can save many lives. The moral case for aid is compelling. But we must also remember that aid is just palliative care. It doesn’t treat the underlying problems. As leaders like Rwandan president Paul Kagame have noted, it can even make these problems worse if it saps the innovation, ambition, confidence, and aspiration that ultimately helps poor countries grow.

So, two days later, I opened my own TED talk with a different photo, one of African students doing their homework at night under streetlights. I hoped the image would provoke astonishment rather than guilt or pity—for how could it be that the 100-year-old technology for lighting homes was still not available for the students? I argued that the failure could be traced to weak or wrong rules. The right rules can harness self-interest and use it to reduce poverty. The wrong rules stifle this force or channel it in ways that harm society.

The deeper problem, widely recognised but seldom addressed, is how to free people from bad rules. I floated a provocative idea. Instead of focusing on poor nations and how to change their rules, we should focus on poor people and how they can move somewhere with better rules. One way to do this is with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of new “charter cities,” where developed countries frame the rules and hundreds of millions of poor families could become residents.

How would such a city work? Imagine that a government in a poor country set aside a piece of uninhabited land. It invites a developed country to enter into a new type of partnership, in which the developed country sets up and enforces rules specified in a charter. Citizens from the poorer country, and the rest of the world, would be free to live and work in the city that emerges. It could create economic opportunities and encourage foreign investment, and by using uninhabited land it would ensure everyone living there would have chosen to do so with full knowledge of the rules. Roughly 3bn people, mostly the working poor, will move to cities over the next few decades. To my mind the choice is not whether the world will urbanise, but where and under which rules. Instead of expanding the slums in existing urban centres, new charter cities could provide safe, low-income housing and jobs that the world will need to accommodate this shift. Even more important, these cities could give poor people a chance to choose the rules they want to live and work under.

To understand why rules are the way to harness self-interest, and why such new cities could work where old cities have not, look again at the example of electricity. We know from the developed world that it costs very little to light a home—on average, less than one US penny an hour for a 100-watt bulb. We also know that most poor people in Africa are not starving. They could afford some light. Africans do not lack electricity because they are too poor. Indeed, reliable power is so important for education, productivity and job creation that it would be more accurate to say that many in Africa are poor because they don’t have electricity. So why don’t they?

Why the right rules matter
Consider development the other way round. US customers have cheap electricity mostly because rules channel self-interest in the right way. Some protect investments made by utilities, others stop these companies abusing their monopoly power. With such rules, companies win; efficient providers make a profit. But customers win too; they get access to a vital resource at low cost. It’s the absence of these rules that explains why many Africans don’t have electricity at home. It might seem a simple insight, but it took economists a long time to understand it.

In the 1950s and 1960s, economic models treated ideas as public goods, meaning that once one existed it was assumed to exist everywhere. Some ideas are like this—for example, the formula for oral rehydration therapy, the mixture of sugar, salt, and water, that stops children dying from diarrhoea. No one owns it and you can find it easily online. If all ideas were like this it would be easier for poor countries to grow. But they aren’t: patents and other legal rules stop some ideas spreading, while others are just easy to keep secret.

When I started graduate school in the late 1970s I was convinced economists underestimated the potential for new ideas to raise living standards. The body of work that grew out of my PhD thesis came to be called new growth theory, or post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory in Britain (when it was infamously taken up by new Labour in the mid-1990s). Initially I just wanted to understand how good ideas, like those which make cheap electric light possible, were discovered. But then another topic began to interest me: why didn’t ideas common in some parts of the world spread to others?

Put simply, some countries are better able to establish the type of rules that help good ideas spread, while others are trapped by bad rules that keep ideas out. The rules stopping cheap electricity, for instance, are not hard to identify. The threat of expropriation or political instability stops many western electricity companies moving into Africa. Those that do set up there can exploit their power as monopolists to charge excessive prices. Often they offer bribes to stop rules being enforced, or pay bribes themselves. Good rules would stop all this. So to unleash the potential of the marketplace, poor countries need to find a way to create good rules.

The challenge in setting up good rules lies in solving what economists call “commitment” problems. How can a developing country promise to keep the rules that govern investment fair? Nobel prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling illustrates this problem with the example of a kidnapper who decides he wants to free his victim. But the kidnapper worries that the victim, once released, will go to the authorities. The victim, eager to be free, promises not to—but there is no way for him to guarantee he will keep quiet. As a result, the kidnapper is compelled to kill the victim, even though both would be better off if a binding agreement could be made. Poor countries face similar problems: their leaders cannot make credible commitments to would-be investors.

Rich nations use well-functioning systems of courts, police and jails, developed over centuries, to solve such problems. Two people can make a commitment. If they don’t follow through, the courts will punish them. But many developing countries are still working their way down the same arduous path. Their leaders can fight corruption and establish independent courts and better rules over property rights, but such moves often require unpopular measures to coerce and cajole populations, making internal reforms excruciatingly slow. Subsequent leaders may undo any commitments they make. A faster route would seem to be for a developed country to impose new rules by force, as they did in the colonial period. There is evidence that some former colonies are more successful today because of rules established during their occupations. Yet any economic benefits usually took a long time to show up, and rarely compensated for years of condescension and the violent opposition it provoked. Today, violent civil conflicts have led some countries to again consider military humanitarian intervention, but this can only be justified in extreme circumstances. My point was that there is a middle ground between slow internal reforms and risky attempts at recolonialisation: the charter city.

There are large swathes of uninhabited land on the coast of sub-Saharan Africa that are too dry for agriculture. But a city can develop in even the driest locations, supported if necessary by desalinated and recycled water. And the new zone created need not be ruled directly from the developed partner country—residents of the charter city can administer the rules specified by their partner as long as the developed country retains the final say. This is what happens today in Mauritius, where the British Privy Council is still the court of final appeal in a judicial system staffed by Mauritians. Different cities could start with charters that differ in many ways. The common element would be that all residents would be there by choice—a Gallup survey found that 700m people around the world would be willing to move permanently to another country that offers safety and economic opportunity.

I started thinking about city-scale special zones after writing a paper about Mauritius. At the time of its independence in 1968, economists were pessimistic about this small island nation’s prospects. The population was growing rapidly, new jobs were scarce in its only real export industry (sugar), and high tariffs designed to protect small companies manufacturing for the domestic market meant no companies could profitably use their workers to manufacture goods for export. It was politically impossible to dismantle these barriers to trade, so policymakers did the next best thing: they created a special category of companies, ones said to be in a “special export zone.” The zone didn’t physically exist, in that these companies could locate anywhere on the island, but companies “inside” the zone operated under different rules. They faced no tariffs, or limits on imports or exports. Foreign companies in the zone could enter and exit freely, and keep profits they earned. Domestic companies could enter too. The only quid pro quo was that everyone in the zone had to produce only for export, so as not to compete with domestic firms. The zone was a dramatic success. Foreign businesses entered. Employment grew rapidly. The economy moved from agriculture to manufacturing. Once growth was underway, the government reduced trade barriers, freeing up the rest of the economy.

The history of development is littered with failed examples of similar zones. Mauritius was unusual because it had low levels of crime and the government already provided good utilities and infrastructure. The zone only had to remove one bad form of governance: trade restrictions. Yet many developing countries still can’t offer the basics, another reason why building new cities is an attractive option. Cities are just the right scale to offer basic conditions. So long as they can trade freely, even small cities are big enough to be self-sufficient. Yet because they are dense they require very little land.

To apply the lessons from Mauritius in countries with pervasive problems, the key is to create zones with new rules that are big enough to be self-contained. Big enough, that is, to hold a city. Then let people decide whether to enter.

When I returned to Mauritius in 2008, I outlined my ideas to Maurice Lam, head of the Mauritian Board of Investment. Maurice splits his time between Mauritius and Singapore. He and I knew that Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore, had experimented in the 1990s with a similar idea, establishing new cities that Singapore could help to run in China and Indonesia. These ran into difficulties because the local governments retained discretionary powers that they used to interfere after Singapore had made large investments in infrastructure. This convinced us that explicit treaties reassigning administrative control over land were needed. Maurice also said that countries in Africa would be open to this kind of arrangement. Some officials, eager to make a credible commitment to foreign investors, had already made informal inquiries about whether Mauritius would be willing to take administrative control over their special export zones.

What could go wrong?
Some economists have objected that a charter agreement between two countries will not necessarily solve the commitment problem that lies at the heart of development failures. The leaders of many countries enter into agreements, sometimes with the best intentions, that subsequent leaders or officials do not honour—as Lee Kuan Yew found to his cost. To guard against such an outcome, partners in a charter city must negotiate a formal treaty, like the one that gave the British rights in Hong Kong (see box, right). Under this arrangement the only way for the host country to renege on its commitment would be to invade. Even governments that resent having signed such agreements in the past almost always respect them. The Cubans hate the agreement that gave the US control of Guantánamo Bay, but learned to live with it.

Another objection comes from those who study urbanisation. They point out that the location of most existing cities is determined by accidents of history or geography, and suggest, correctly, that there are geographical requirements for a city to survive. But they are surely wrong to think that all the good sites for cities are taken. Here distance matters, but it is not an insurmountable obstacle: Mauritius continues to develop despite its remote location. Flat land is cheaper to build on, but many cities have developed on hilly terrain. A river can provide fresh water and access to the sea, but with desalination, so too can any coastal location where a port could be built. Access to the sea is the only real necessity—as long as a charter city can ship goods back and forth on container ships, it can thrive even if its neighbours turn hostile or unstable. And there are thousands of largely uninhabited coastal locations on several continents that could qualify.

Other urban economists fear new cities will repeat the unimpressive history of government-planned ones like Brasília, or Dubai’s recent bust. But these are both extreme examples. The state was too intrusive in Brasília and almost non-existent in Dubai. Hong Kong is the middle ground, a state ruled by laws not men, but one that leaves competition and individual initiative to decide the details.

The experience in Hong Kong offers two further lessons. The first is the importance of giving people a choice about the rules that govern them. Hong Kong was sparsely populated when the British took over. Unlike other colonial systems, almost everyone chose to come and live under the new system. This gave the rules proposed by the British a degree of legitimacy they never had in India, where the rules were imposed on often unwilling subjects. This is why building new cities, rather than taking over existing ones, is so powerful.

The second lesson is the importance of getting the scale right. Most nations are too large to update all their rules and laws at once. The coercion needed to impose a new system on an existing population generates friction, no matter who is in charge. Leaders on mainland China understood this when they attempted to copy the successes of Hong Kong by gradually opening a few places, such as the new city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong. Yet while nations are too big, towns and villages are too small. A village cannot capture the benefits that arise when millions of people live and work together under good rules. Cities offer the right scale for dramatic change.

The demands of migration
As billions of people urbanise in the coming decades, they can move to hundreds of new cities. The gains new cities can unleash are clear. Picture again the students studying under the streetlights. By themselves, political leaders in poor countries won’t provide cheap, reliable electricity any time soon. They can’t eliminate the political risk that holds back investment or ensure adequate regulatory controls. But working with a partner nation, they can establish a new city where millions of young people could pay pennies to be able to study at home. And as these cities seek out residents, the leaders and citizens in existing countries will face the most effective pressure for good governance—competition.

We know from history that the competitive pressures created by migration can boost economic growth. But strong opposition to immigration in the world’s richest economies prevents many people from moving to better systems of rules. Charter cities bring the good systems of rules to places that would welcome migrants. Indeed, charter cities offer the only viable path for substantial increases in global migration, bringing good rules to places that the world’s poor can easily and legally access, while lessening the contentious political frictions that arise from traditional migration flows.

Intelligently designed new cities can offer environmental benefits too, a point increasingly made by environmentalists like Stewart Brand (see p39.) For example, Indonesia emits greenhouse gases at a rate exceeded only by China and the US. This rate is partly due to logging practices in its rainforest, and efforts to clear land for palm-oil plantations and pulp-producing acacia trees. Brand has cited the experience of Panama to demonstrate the green potential of urbanisation: as people there left slash-and-burn agriculture for work in cities, forest regenerated on the land they left behind. Similar migration to new cities in places like Indonesia could do much to reduce carbon emissions from the developing world.

Investment in charter cities could also make more effective the aid rich countries give. The British experience in Hong Kong shows that enforcing rules costs partners very little, but can have a huge effect. Because Hong Kong helped make reform in the rest of China possible, the British intervention there arguably did more to reduce world poverty than all the official aid programmes of the 20th century, and at a fraction of the cost. And, if many such cities are built, fewer people will be trapped in the failed states that are the root cause of most humanitarian crises and security concerns.

There are many questions to be resolved before the first city is chartered. Is it better to have a group of rich nations, or a multinational body like the EU, play the role the British played in Hong Kong? How would such a city be governed? And how and when might transfer of control back to the host country be arranged? But as we begin to explore these questions, we must not lose sight of the fundamental insights that advocates of the free market underestimate. The win-win agreements that we see in well-functioning markets are possible only when there is a strong, credible government that can establish the rules. In places where these rules are not present, it could take centuries for locals to bootstrap themselves from bad rules to good. By creating new zones through partnerships at the national level, good rules can spread more quickly, and when they do, the benefits can be huge.

The world’s fortunate citizens must be able to provide assistance when disasters like the earthquake in Haiti strike, but we must also be wary of the practical and moral limits of aid. When the roles of benefactor and supplicant are institutionalised, both parties are diminished. In the case of Haiti, if nations in the region created just two charter cities, they could house the entire population of that country. Senegal has offered Haitians the opportunity to return to the home “of their ancestors.” “If they come en masse we are ready to give them a region,” a Senegal government spokesman said. Outside of the extraordinary circumstances of a crisis, the role of partner is better for everyone. And there are millions of people seeking partnerships around the world. Helping people build them successfully is the opportunity of the century

Hong Kong: the first charter city?
Hong Kong was a successful example of a special zone that could serve as a model for charter cities. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the only place in China where Chinese workers could enter partnerships with foreign workers and companies. Many of the Chinese who moved to Hong Kong started in low-skill jobs, making toys or sewing shirts. But over time their wages grew along with the skills that they gained working with educated managers, and using modern technologies and working practices.

Over time they acquired the values and norms that sustain modern cities. As a result, Hong Kong enjoyed rapid economic growth—in 1960, the average income was around £2,500; by 1997, it was around £20,000. Even if it had wanted to, the Chinese government acting alone could not have offered this opportunity. The credibility of rules developed over centuries by the British government was essential in attracting the foreign investment, companies and skilled workers that let these low-skill immigrants lift themselves out of poverty. As in Mauritius, authority rested ultimately with the British governor general, but most of the police and civil servants were Chinese. And the benefits demonstrated in Hong Kong became a model for reform-minded leaders in China itself.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty
by Sebastian Mallaby / July/August 2010

Halfway through the 12th Century, and a long time before economists began pondering how to turn poor places into rich ones, the Germanic prince Henry the Lion set out to create a merchant’s mecca on the lawless Baltic coast. It was an ambitious project, a bit like trying to build a new Chicago in modern Congo or Iraq. Northern Germany was plagued by what today’s development gurus might delicately call a “bad-governance equilibrium,” its townships frequently sacked by Slavic marauders such as the formidable pirate Niclot the Obotrite. But Henry was not a mouse. He seized control of a fledgling town called Lübeck, had Niclot beheaded on the battlefield, and arranged for Lübeck to become the seat of a diocese. A grand rectangular market was laid out at the center of the town; all that was missing was the merchants.

To attract that missing ingredient to his city, Henry hit on an idea that has enjoyed a sort of comeback lately. He devised a charter for Lübeck, a set of “most honorable civic rights,” calculating that a city with light regulation and fair laws would attract investment easily. The stultifying feudal hierarchy was cast aside; an autonomous council of local burgesses would govern Lübeck. Onerous taxes and trade restrictions were ruled out; merchants who settled in Lübeck would be exempt from duties and customs throughout Henry the Lion’s lands, which stretched south as far as Bavaria. The residents of Lübeck were promised fair treatment before the law and an independent mint that would shelter them from confiscatory inflation. With this bill of rights in place, Henry dispatched messengers to Russia, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Merchants who liked the sound of his charter were invited to migrate to Lübeck.

The plan worked. Immigrants soon began arriving in force, and Lübeck became the leading entrepôt for the budding Baltic Sea trade route, which eventually extended as far west as London and Bruges and as far east as Novgorod, in Russia. Hundreds of oaken cogs—ships powered by a single square sail—entered Lübeck’s harbor every year, their hulls bursting with Flemish cloth, Russian fur, and German salt. In less than a century, Lübeck went from a backwater to the most populous and prosperous town in northern Europe. “In medieval urban history there is hardly another example of a success so sudden and so brilliant,” writes the historian Philippe Dollinger.

Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than Lübeck’s wealth was the influence of its charter. As trade routes lengthened, new cities mushroomed all along the Baltic shore, and rather than develop a legal code from scratch, the next wave of city fathers copied Lübeck’s charter, importing its political and economic liberties. The early imitators included the nearby cities of Rostock and Danzig, but the charter was eventually adopted as far afield as Riga and Tallinn, the capitals of modern Latvia and Estonia. The medieval world had stumbled upon a formula for creating order out of chaos and prosperity amid backwardness. Lübeck ultimately became the seat of the Hanseatic League, an economic alliance of 200 cities that lasted nearly half a millennium.

Fast-forward several centuries, and Henry the Lion’s would-be heir is Paul Romer, a gentle economist at Stanford University. Elegant, bespectacled, geekishly curious in a boyish way, Romer is not the kind of person you might picture armed with a two-handed flanged mace, cutting down Slavic marauders. But he is bent on cutting down an adversary almost as resistant: the conventional approach to development in poor countries. Rather than betting that aid dollars can beat poverty, Romer is peddling a radical vision: that dysfunctional nations can kick-start their own development by creating new cities with new rules—Lübeck-style centers of progress that Romer calls “charter cities.” By building urban oases of technocratic sanity, struggling nations could attract investment and jobs; private capital would flood in and foreign aid would not be needed. And since Henry the Lion is not on hand to establish these new cities, Romer looks to the chief source of legitimate coercion that exists today—the governments that preside over the world’s more successful countries. To launch new charter cities, he says, poor countries should lease chunks of territory to enlightened foreign powers, which would take charge as though presiding over some imperial protectorate. Romer’s prescription is not merely neo-medieval, in other words. It is also neo-colonial.

Inevitably, Romer’s big idea attracts some skeptical responses. “Paul is very creative,” says William Easterly, a development economist at New York University, “and sometimes creativity can cross the line into craziness.” The way Easterly sees it, charter cities (like charter schools in American cities) may provide an alternative to incumbent government systems, promising experimentation, competition, and perhaps a new way forward. But Easterly also worries that Romer has fallen prey to an old siren song—the idea that you can slough off debilitating customs and vested interests by constructing a technocratic petri dish uncontaminated by politics. Other critics are blunter. “Romer makes it sound as though setting up a charter city is like setting up a fairground,” Elliott Sclar, a professor of urban planning at Columbia University, told me. “We take a clear piece of land, we turn on the bright lights, and we create this separate environment that will stand apart from everything that’s around it. I wish it were that simple.”

However simple-seeming his ideas, Romer is no lightweight. Starting in the late 1980s, he produced a series of papers that changed the way his profession thinks about economic growth; his most celebrated contribution, published in 1990, “was one of the best papers in economics in 25 or 30 years,” in the estimation of Charles I. Jones, a colleague of Romer’s at Stanford. Before the Romer revolution, theorists had explained an economy’s growing output by looking at the obvious inputs—the number of hours worked, the skills of the workforce, the quantity of machinery and other physical capital.

But Romer stressed a fourth driver of growth, which he termed simply “ideas,” a category that encompassed everything from the formula for a new drug to the most efficient sequence for stitching 19 pieces of material into a sneaker. In statistical tests, the traditional inputs appeared to account for only half the differences in countries’ output per person, suggesting that ideas might account for the remaining half—and that leaving them out of a growth theory was like leaving the prince out of Hamlet. And whereas the old models had predicted that growth would slow as population expansion put stress on resources, and as new investment in skills and capital yielded diminishing returns, Romer’s New Growth Theory opened the window onto a sunnier worldview: a larger number of affluent people means more ideas, so prosperity and population expansion might cause growth to speed up.

Romer’s enthusiasm for technology made him a natural West Coaster, so it is not surprising that, after spells on the faculty at the University of Rochester and the University of Chicago, he fetched up at the University of California at Berkeley and then at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. But the next turn in his thinking involved a rebellion against the libertarianism of his Silicon Valley home. “I was willing to be a bit confrontational,” Romer says, impishly. Starting with a paper he presented at a World Bank conference in 1992, Romer began to emphasize that “ideas” included more than just technologies and manufacturing processes. Ideas were also embodied in customs and institutions—or, as Romer later came to put it, “rules”—patent law, competition law, bankruptcy law, and so on, as well as the softer “norms” that govern people’s behavior. Indeed, these rules could be even more important than technologies, however much the digerati of Silicon Valley might wish to believe otherwise. Without new technologies, an economy might grow slowly. But without decent rules, an economy cannot even make use of the technologies that already exist.

To drive home the importance of good rules to economic growth, Romer sometimes shows a photograph of Guinean teenagers doing their homework under streetlights. The line of hunched, concentrating figures presents a mystery, Romer says; from the photo it is clear that the teens are not dirt poor, and youths like these generally own cell phones. Yet they evidently have no electric light at home, or they would not be studying by the curbside. “So here is the puzzle,” Romer declares: Why do these kids have access to a cutting-edge technology like the cell phone, but not to a 100-year-old technology for generating electric light in the home? The answer, in a word, is rules. Because of misguided price controls in the teenagers’ country, the local electricity utility has no incentive to connect their houses to the power grid. Their society lacks the rules that make technological advance meaningful.

For much of the 1990s, development economists built on Romer’s insights, so that laws and the institutions needed to enforce them became central to the mainstream view of what drives human progress. But then, having transformed academic economics, Romer shocked the profession once again—this time by abandoning it. Starting in 2001, he began to channel his energy into a start-up software company that he named Aplia. “I was extremely disappointed to lose Paul as an academic colleague,” Easterly told me. “By walking away from research, he no doubt ignored the advice of anyone he might have talked to.” But Romer shrugged off such complaints. “When I was young, there were too many old economists who were getting in the way,” he explained. “So after 10 years I wanted to get out of the way, and not stifle the next generation.” Besides, Romer’s father, Roy, a former governor of Colorado, had just begun running the Los Angeles school system. As a proponent of technology, the younger Romer was embarrassed that educators such as himself had barely used computers to boost their own productivity.

Like Romer’s research, his company was radical. It created teaching materials that could be accessed online by collegiate economics students, challenging the dead-tree model of the textbook-industrial complex. At first, Romer was told that his approach was crazy. Students were used to paying a fortune for textbooks and then getting the accompanying homework problems at a trivial cost; Romer’s little start-up presumed to invert custom. Sooner or later, Romer insisted, textbooks would be electronic, at which point they would be copied and shared. By contrast, access to online homework problems could be metered successfully on the Web, because the sale of the homework could be bundled with automatic, online grading. Professors would be drawn to the system, and to assigning Aplia’s online texts. And those who had stinted on handing out exercises because of the grading time required would now feel free to assign more, with the result that students would make faster progress. By the time Romer sold Aplia in 2007, students had submitted 200 million answers to its online problems, and the venture had made its founder independently wealthy—not rich enough to be invited to Silicon Valley’s fancy charity galas, but plenty rich enough to live without a salary. At 52 years old, he began to look for a new challenge.

Romer was not inclined to go back to academia. The World Bank sounded him out for the job of chief economist, a perch previously occupied by stars such as Stanley Fischer, Lawrence Summers, and Joseph Stiglitz, but Romer was not interested in that, either. What he wanted, he told me, was to draw on the intellectual creativity of his university days and the entrepreneurial initiative he had shown at Aplia—and above all, to be maximally ambitious. When he made his choice, in 2008, it was suitably bold. He gave up tenure at Stanford and set out to make his mark in his own way: with the help of three assistants, he launched his charter-cities campaign, operating partly out of the small office he retained at Stanford and partly out of a friend’s house or a local Peet’s Coffee. He also began to shuttle back and forth across the world, meeting with any developing-country leader who would grant him an audience. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa, a surprising number proved ready to do so.

When Romer explains charter cities, he likes to invoke Hong Kong. For much of the 20th century, Hong Kong’s economy left mainland China’s in the dust, proving that enlightened rules can make a world of difference. By an accident of history, Hong Kong essentially had its own charter—a set of laws and institutions imposed by its British colonial overseers—and the charter served as a magnet for go-getters. At a time when much of East Asia was ruled by nationalist or Communist strongmen, Hong Kong’s colonial authorities put in place low taxes, minimal regulation, and legal protections for property rights and contracts; between 1913 and 1980, the city’s inflation-adjusted output per person jumped more than eightfold, making the average Hong Kong resident 10 times as rich as the average mainland Chinese, and about four-fifths as rich as the average Briton. Then, beginning around 1980, Hong Kong’s example inspired the mainland’s rulers to create copycat enclaves. Starting in Shenzhen City, adjacent to Hong Kong, and then curling west and north around the Pacific shore, China created a series of special economic zones that followed Hong Kong’s model. Pretty soon, one of history’s greatest export booms was under way, and between 1987 and 1998, an estimated 100 million Chinese rose above the $1-a-day income that defines abject poverty. The success of the special economic zones eventually drove China’s rulers to embrace the export-driven, pro-business model for the whole country. “In a sense, Britain inadvertently, through its actions in Hong Kong, did more to reduce world poverty than all the aid programs that we’ve undertaken in the last century,” Romer observes drily.

Of course, versions of China’s special economic zones have existed elsewhere, especially in Asia. But Romer is not just arguing for enclaves; he is arguing for enclaves that are run by foreign governments. To Romer, the fact that Hong Kong was a colonial experiment, imposed upon a humiliated China by means of a treaty signed aboard a British warship, is not just an embarrassing detail. On the contrary, British rule was central to the city’s success in persuading capitalists of all stripes to flock to it. Romer sometimes illustrates this point by citing another Communist country: modern-day Cuba. Cuba’s rulers have tried to induce foreign corporations to set up shop in special export zones, and have been greeted with understandable caution. But if Raúl Castro convinced a foreign government—ideally a rich democracy such as Canada—to assume sovereignty over a start-up city in Cuba, the prospect of a mini Canada in the sun might attract a flood of investment.

It must have occurred to Castro, Romer says, that his island could do with its own version of Hong Kong; and perhaps that the Guantánamo Bay zone, over which Cuba has already ceded sovereignty to the United States, would be a good place to build one. “Castro goes to the prime minister of Canada and says, ‘Look, the Yankees have a terrible PR problem. They want to get out. Why don’t you, Canada, take over? Run a special administrative zone. Allow a new city to be built up there,’” Romer muses, channeling a statesmanlike version of Raúl Castro that Cuba-watchers might not recognize. “Some of my citizens will move into that city,” Romer-as-Castro continues. “Others will hold back. But this will be the gateway that will connect the modern economy and the modern world to my country.”

When I put this scenario to Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, she described the whole notion as “wacky.” But not everyone has dismissed Romer’s vision so quickly. Romer maintains that when he started to discuss his thinking with governments in developing countries, he found many of them receptive. One nation in particular seemed eager to sign on: the island-state of Madagascar, off the southeastern coast of Africa, where 90 percent of the people subsist on less than $2 a day.

In July 2008, Romer made his first trip to Madagascar’s bustling capital, Antananarivo. Madagascar’s government was anxious to attract foreign investment, and it understood that a credibility deficit held it back. In an earlier bout of openness, the island had lured in foreign garment firms, but then the political climate turned hostile and the firms fled; now the government was having trouble enticing them to come back. Faced with this obstacle, the Malagasy authorities were open to unconventional arrangements. To boost investment in agriculture, they were ready to lease a Connecticut-size tract of land to Daewoo, a South Korean corporation, for 99 years. To boost investment in export industries, they were thinking about inviting a tiny Indian Ocean neighbor, Mauritius, to administer an export-processing zone on Malagasy territory. Romer’s proposal fit in with these adventurous ideas. He returned to Antananarivo in November 2008 and held another round of promising meetings with government officials. The final hurdle, he was told, would be to secure an audience with the president, a former businessman named Marc Ravalomanana. Nothing could happen without his say-so.

Romer returned to Stanford and waited to hear when the president might be available. Periodically, he would receive an e-mail: Ravalomanana’s schedulers were battling to fit him in, but dozens of competing issues demanded the boss’s attention, and they were reluctant to commit to a firm time for the meeting. As the end of the year approached, without any appointment, Romer decided it was time for a gamble: he made the 30-hour trip from San Francisco once again, arriving in Antananarivo on the Sunday before Christmas, figuring that the president’s schedule might open up over the holidays. He checked himself into the Hotel du Louvre, close to the presidential palace, and called his government contacts to announce his arrival; then he set about waiting. He found that a patisserie nearby served finer French pastries than he had tasted in any American city. Sitting in the café with an espresso and a mille-feuille, Romer could see young men, stunted from malnutrition, watching over the cars parked in front of the hotel, hoping for a few tips. A portly European of a certain age walked by with an attractive young Malagasy woman on his arm, and the men outside the hotel stared. The look on their faces expressed all that needed to be said about global inequality.

Two days after he arrived, Romer got the summons he was waiting for. Late in the evening, on the night before Christmas Eve, he was ushered into the president’s personal residence, a recently refurbished but relatively modest home high in the hills. Ravalomanana had a few guests over to celebrate the holidays, and the mood was relaxed. He invited Romer out onto his balcony to see the view of the city, and then the two men moved into a study. The only symbols of authority were a large desk and a flag. The president was in shirtsleeves.

In public, Ravalomanana cut quite a figure. Handsome, youthful in appearance, and wealthy, he had started out selling homemade yogurt off the back of a bicycle and ended up holding a national monopoly on all dairy and oil products. But in private, Romer found the president quite approachable. Romer made his pitch for a charter city, and Ravalomanana responded that he wasn’t sure one was enough; if Romer could identify two rich countries willing to play the role of government trustee, it might be better to launch two parallel experiments. The president and the professor agreed that the new hubs should be open to migrants from nearby countries as well as to locals. They rose to examine a map of Madagascar on the study wall. Ravalomanana suggested building the first city on the island’s southwestern coast, which was largely uninhabited because of its dry heat. To Romer, the site sounded very much like the coastal locations that appeal most to the world’s affluent as vacation spots.

Romer has a quick smile and a knack for saying big things with small words, but he is not much for emotion. Recalling his trips to Madagascar, he sounds typically cool about them. But a more excitable person would be whooping out the punch lines at this point in the story; the fact that the charter-cities movement had progressed so far so fast is little short of astonishing. Barely a year after launching his venture, Romer was on the brink of a rare coup: a nation of 20 million people was about to embrace a neo-medieval, neo-colonial scheme untested in the modern history of development. But then a different sort of coup occurred—the kind of coup, unfortunately, that underscores the obstacles to Romer’s project.

Even as Romer was meeting with Ravalomanana, the president’s main political opponent was sniping at the proposed lease of farmland to Daewoo, and the idea of giving up vast swaths of territory to foreigners was growing increasingly unpopular. The arrangement was denounced as treason, and public protests gathered momentum, eventually turning violent. In late January 2009, protesters tossed homemade grenades at radio and TV stations that Ravalomanana owned; looters ransacked his chain of supermarkets. In February, guards opened fire on marchers in front of the presidential palace, killing 28 civilians. At this, units of the army mutinied. Soon, Ravalomanana was forced out of office.

The first action of the new government was to cancel the Daewoo project, and Romer’s plans in Madagascar were put on hold indefinitely. But the larger question was what, if anything, this disappointment signified for Romer’s whole approach. The riots appeared to demonstrate the explosive sensitivities surrounding sovereignty and land—sensitivities that are not confined to Madagascar. Indeed, versions of the Daewoo story have played out elsewhere. In the late 1990s, for example, Fiji’s government decided to bring in a British nonprofit to manage its mahogany forests, and an indigenous leader launched a revolt under the slogan “Fiji for the Fijians.” The rebellion was hypocritical: as the Oxford economist Paul Collier recounts in his book The Bottom Billion, the indigenous leader had himself backed a rival foreign bid to manage the mahogany. But the venality of the rebels’ motivation didn’t change the fact that a demagogue could easily attract support by railing against territorial concessions to foreigners.

Ever since the setback in Madagascar, Romer has been coy, for obvious reasons, about which governments are interested in his plan. But he remains optimistic. “I revived growth theory. I made technology work in higher ed. I am two for two, and I think the impossible can be done,” he told me cheerfully. He added that the Daewoo deal might not have been the main impetus for the coup in Madagascar; the real reasons for Ravalomanana’s downfall lay in idiosyncratic local rivalries, even if the opposition exploited sensitivities over land to incite antigovernment protests. I suggested that the fact that land concessions could trigger such emotions was still not a good sign. Romer stopped, considered, and chose his words carefully.

“Anything that involves land can be manipulated by people who want to rise up against a leader,” he began. “You have to find a place where there’s a strong enough leader with enough legitimacy to do this knowing that he’s going to get attacked. It narrows the options quite a bit. But we shouldn’t give up without trying a few more places.” In short, a disappointment with one client is no excuse for failing to pitch other ones. Any entrepreneur knows that.

As politically freighted as Romer’s ideas are, they also carry a continuing attraction to the people in charge of many poor countries, particularly those with rapidly growing populations. By some estimates, 3 billion people will move to cities in the next few decades, abandoning miserable and environmentally destructive work as subsistence farmers in the hope of better lives in manufacturing and services. In the absence of a Romer-type solution, these migrants will move into urban slums with no running water, high crime rates, few steady jobs, and sewage in the streets; charter cities seem a better option. And Romer’s idea has the great merit of paying for itself. Land in successful cities appreciates in value, creating wealth that can be unlocked to finance new buildings, businesses, and infrastructure. And so African officials continue to meet with Romer, and Romer continues to jet off to wherever they are ready to see him.

When you listen carefully, you realize that much of what Romer is saying should not be controversial. A few development economists argue that geography is destiny, but most share Romer’s conviction that decent rules are paramount. After all, Asia accounted for fully 56 percent of world income in 1820, only 16 percent in 1950, and a substantial 39 percent in 2008; what changed over this period was rules, not geography. Equally, Romer’s contention that a developing country can achieve good government by importing the credibility of foreigners fits with mainstream thinking. When Panama or Ecuador decides to do business in dollars, or when Slovenia embraces the euro, each country is importing the credibility of a foreign central bank. Similarly, joining the World Trade Organization is a proven way to import the rich world’s tariff structure, intellectual-property rules, and domestic regulations—and, just as important, to persuade investors that the reform is permanent. Importing foreign election monitors or peacekeepers can compensate for weak political institutions or security forces. And so on.

But Romer is also urging us to reexamine assumptions about citizenship and democracy, and this is where he gets more radical. In the kind of charter city he imagines, the governor would be appointed by Canada or some other rich nation, but the people who work there would come from poor countries—the whole point, after all, is to bring the governance of the developed world to workers in undeveloped places. It follows that the workers in Romer’s charter city wouldn’t be citizens in the full sense. They would be offered whatever protections the founding charter might lay down, and they would have to take them or leave them. Rather than getting a vote at the ballot box, Romer is saying, the residents of a charter city would have to vote with their feet. Their leaders would be accountable—but only to the rich voters in the country that appointed them.

This viewpoint is, to say the least, not in keeping with the idealized vision of development, in which freedom and prosperity advance in lockstep, with democracy serving as the necessary companion to economic progress. In the 1980s Ronald Reagan declared confidently, “Freedom works”; and in the 1990s Bill Clinton lectured foreign counterparts on how democracy had become all the more indispensable to progress with the advent of the “knowledge economy.” But assertions like these have seemed more fragile recently, with authoritarian China breaking growth records and state capitalism apparently thriving; Romer is hardly the only person to doubt that democracy is a necessary condition for economic progress. And to the extent that opt-in charter cities offer a third way—something between pure democracy and pure authoritarianism—those who care for liberty might do well to embrace the experiment. Charter cities make it harder for authoritarians to claim that their system offers the only fast route out of poverty.

The real test for Romer’s attitude toward democracy is not whether it conforms to Western ideals, but whether it appeals to the poor people whom Western aid agencies claim to be serving. And on this score, the answer is clear. In fact, you could say Romer’s assertion—that voting with your feet can be a palatable alternative to casting a ballot—already has 214 million adherents, for that is the number of people who have chosen to leave their home countries and settle as migrants in places where they have no political vote. Real development, as distinct from the idealized vision of development, involves hard personal choices. If people are willing to live as legal or illegal immigrants, with rights that range from limited to none, then logically, they should be even more eager to move to a Romerplex, which would promise most of the economic gains of uprooting to another continent while allowing migrants to stay closer to their families and cultures.

If you have stuck with Romer thus far, you are ready for the last part of his argument. If good rules are the key to development, it follows that the big development challenge is to grasp how to reform bad rules—and to accept that conventional approaches are not terribly successful. Think back to the African teenagers reading under the streetlights. The bad rules they contend with are well understood: dozens of World Bank missions have doubtless pointed out that price controls on electricity destroy the electric company’s incentive to sign up new customers. But what is not understood is how to abolish those controls, since the country’s elite, which is already hooked up to the electric grid, will fight tooth and nail against higher prices.

The standard response to this obstacle is to advocate democracy and hope that voters will force change: the minority that has electric light will be outvoted by the much larger number of people who have been denied it. But Romer argues that this way forward is too slow. People don’t always vote their economic interests, and elites with tentacles all over the ministry of energy may keep price controls in place for decades. So rather than wait in vain for electricity rules to change, we are better off starting a new experiment with brand-new rules—a charter city that stands outside the ministry’s authority. Rather than going at an obstacle head-on, Romer is saying, sidestepping it is frequently a better option.

Romer likes to clinch this point with an analogy from industry. A firm like IBM may develop a culture—a set of corporate rules—that is brilliantly suited to handling the institutional customers that buy mainframe computers. But when the PC is invented, and individuals become customers, the IBM culture proves awkward and slow; and reforming its rules turns out to be difficult. So along come Dell and Apple, with business models better targeted at household consumers, and pretty soon computer-users start preferring their products. Change from without comes more easily than change from within. Industrial progress comes from new entrants and new experiments, not from the slow process of changing established corporate bureaucracies.

Sometimes, Romer continues, established businesses subject themselves to an internal version of this process. They spawn experimental subsidiaries, known as “skunkworks,” to try out new business models. For example, the discount retailer Target began as an experimental skunkworks spun off by the old-line retailer Dayton Company. Target was given its own charter and allowed to test out a new approach; it succeeded so resoundingly that Dayton eventually ditched the parts of its business that ran according to the old rules and embraced the Target formula. Again, generating change within an organization is often less effective than driving change from without. If companies can change themselves by setting up subsidiaries with new rules, countries could do the same with charter cities.

Throughout our conversation, Romer maintained a steady confidence that poor countries will eventually welcome charter cities. At the end of one of his overseas trips, he messaged me from his iPhone: “Sadly can’t say more yet other than that in two cases I’m waiting for next step meeting w the president. As before I remain optimistic about response from developing countries.” In one case, Romer and his government counterparts have progressed quite far: they have identified the site for the charter city, and agreed that its success will require the construction of a new port. Meanwhile, Romer is equally confident that elite opinion will come around to his idea—and my own recent straw poll of development economists suggests that at least some of them have already done so.

But the largest obstacle Romer faces, by his own admission, still remains: he has to find countries willing to play the role of Britain in Hong Kong. Despite the good arguments that Romer makes for his vision, the responsibilities entailed in Empire 2.0 are not popular. How would a rich government contend with the shantytowns that might spring up around the borders of a charter city? Would it deport the inhabitants, and be accused of human-rights abuses? Or tolerate them and allow its oasis to be overrun with people who don’t respect its city charter? And what would the foreign trustee do if its host tried to nullify the lease? Would it defend its development experiment with an expeditionary army, as Margaret Thatcher defended the Falklands? A top official at one of Europe’s aid agencies told me, “Since we are responsible for our remaining overseas territories, I can tell you there is much grief in running these things. I would be surprised if Romer gets any takers.”

Sensing the resistance among potential trustee nations, Romer has come up with new variants on his formula. A group of advanced countries could share the burden of trusteeship, rather than one nation shouldering the responsibility alone. To reduce the sensitivities over land and sovereignty, the territory for a charter city could be provided by one country while the migrant workers come from another. When I asked Romer about setting up a charter city in post-earthquake Haiti, he recoiled at the idea: the country has no functioning government, so there is no entity that could transfer sovereignty over a parcel of territory in a legitimate way. But Romer was happy to contemplate creative variations on this theme. What if Mexico ceded some land for a charter city for Haitians, with the charter being administered by a consortium of outside governments?

Whatever becomes of Romer’s movement, it is going to be interesting. His thinking taps into so many currents of our era—an era in which millions of migrants embrace his vote-with-your feet vision; in which the old faith in democratic development is questioned; and in which globalization scrambles settled notions of who rules what where. On one side, critics will be scathing: Elliott Sclar, the Columbia professor, warns, “Charter cities amount to a new form of colonialism, and that’s the last thing we need right now.” On the other side, adherents will cheer eagerly: charter cities are “one of the best ideas that anybody in development ever had,” according to Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington, D.C. And throughout these debates, it will be hard not to sympathize with Romer’s plea for fresh thinking. Charter cities face plenty of obstacles, and I could have written an article that dwelt exclusively on them. But when African teenagers do their homework under streetlights, isn’t Romer right to think the unthinkable?

Can “Charter Cities” Change the World? A Q&A With Paul Romer
by Dwyer Gunn / September 29, 2009

Weak institutions and bad rules are some of the most significant obstacles to economic growth in developing countries. Paul Romer, an economist known for his work on economic growth, has a plan to change that and recently resigned his tenured teaching position at Stanford to devote his full energies to the challenge. “Moving from bad rules to better ones may be much harder than most economists have allowed.” Romer’s plan calls for the establishment of Hong Kong-like “charter cities,” special zones within developing countries with better rules and institutions. Romer agreed to answer some of our questions about his crazy and/or revolutionary plan below:

Q. You recently gave up your tenured teaching position at Stanford to launch an ambitious development initiative. Can you tell us about your new charter cities project?
A. Yes, instead of being a professor, I’m now a senior fellow there, which means exactly what it says: I’m officially an old guy. The key to the project is a charter city, which starts out as a city-sized piece of uninhabited territory and a charter or constitution specifying the rules that will apply there. If the charter specifies good rules (or in our professional jargon, good institutions) millions of people will come together to build a new city.

Q. What makes you confident that land and a good charter are all it takes?
A. A well-run city lets millions of people come together and enjoy the benefit they can get from working together and trading with each other. The benefits per person increase with the total number of people; this is why big cities are more productive than small cities or villages. Of course, none of this is new. Adam Smith was referring to the power of exchange and the importance of increasing returns when he wrote that, “the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market.” There are many signs of the value created by all the exchange that takes place in a city. We see it in productivity and wage data. We also see it in the increase in the value of the land. Millions of people are willing to pay high rents just to live and work around millions of other people who are also paying high rents. Why? To get the benefits that come from exchange and interaction with so many others. In the developing world, most people don’t yet live in big well-run cities. Given the chance to move to one, hundreds of millions of people would go there to get a job, get an education for their children, and live in a place that is clean, safe, and healthy. Other people will make a profit by hiring them or supplying them with infrastructure and other services. If the rules let this happen, everyone can be better off. It doesn’t take any charity to build well-run cities.

Q. What kinds of rules would have to be specified in a charter for a new city?
A. Rules about public sanitation are a simple and familiar example. Without them, a city can’t be a healthy place to live; but these rules don’t just happen. The rules for a city are different from the ones for a village, but as a village slowly gets bigger, a city may be stuck with the rules of the village. In a village, it might be O.K. to rule that anyone can urinate anyplace they want. In a modern city, it is better to have a rule saying that people have to urinate into toilets connected to the sewer system. According to a recent news report, the city government in Paris is having trouble enforcing this rule. They have special police units that give tickets to men who urinate against walls. So when we speak of rules, we must understand both rules on paper and an effective system of enforcement. In many cities in poor countries, health is bad because governments don’t enforce basic rules about sanitation. The crime rate is appallingly high because the government doesn’t enforce rules that prohibit theft and violence. Traffic fatalities and congestion are both high because they don’t have good traffic rules or if they do, they don’t enforce them. The fact that people still flock to cities with such bad rules tells us something about how big the other benefits from living in a city must be. But given the choice, they would surely rather go to a city with good rules instead of one with bad rules.

Q. You have argued that new cities can speed up growth in the developing world. Aren’t the cities that the world needs springing up naturally? Why do we need the construct of a charter city to encourage faster or better urbanization?
A. Economists tend to assume that societies will naturally adopt good rules. If that were true, societies would put in place the rules needed to get the gains from a city and well-run cities would indeed spring up. The evidence suggests to the contrary that many societies are stuck with bad rules. Moving from bad rules to better ones may be much harder than most economists have allowed. The construct of a charter city is a suggestion about how we can change the dynamics of rules. It is a way to speed up the rate of improvement in the rules. There is an analogy that may be helpful here. Large corporations operate according to an internal set of rules that we sometimes call a corporate culture. A natural question to ask is what mechanisms lead to improvement in the rule-sets that prevail in all the corporations in an industry. If you think of an industry like computing, it is immediately evident that much of the change comes from the entry of new organizations. They have new rule-sets that attract resources away from the existing ones. IBM had good internal rules for working with big corporations and data centers, but they didn’t work as well for working with small businesses and individual consumers. If IBM had been the only company allowed to be in the computer business, it would have taken a very long time to get where we are now, with networked computers in our pockets. The entry of new organizations like Digital, Intel, and Apple that operated under very different internal sets of rules sped up change in the industry. Charter cities are a way to bring the power of entry and choice to the dynamics of the rules for cities.

Q. Let’s move on to logistics. Who might grant the charter for one of these cities and see that it will be enforced?
A. Different charters could specify different arrangements. This means that we could try many new types of innovative structures. If a national government has sufficient credibility, it could start a charter city within its own territory and administer it from the national capital. This is, in effect, what some countries have done when they have created special economic zones with rules that are different from the ones that prevail in the rest of the country. You could imagine that a country like India might try something like this to speed up urbanization by cutting through many local rules that get in the way of urban development. In poorer countries that don’t have the same kind of credibility with international investors, a more interesting but controversial possibility is that two or more countries might sign a treaty specifying the charter for a new city and allocate between them responsibilities for administering different parts of the treaty. Let me give you a specific example. Right now, the United States and Cuba have a treaty that gives the United States administrative control in perpetuity over a piece of sovereign Cuban territory, Guantanamo Bay. I’ve suggested that Canada and Cuba sign a new treaty in which Canada would take over administration of this area, bring Canadian rule of law there, and let a city grow up that could bring to Cuba some of the advantages that Hong Kong brought to China.

Q. Why will governments, particularly the entrenched, corrupt governments found in many countries, be willing to cede control of these zones?
A. First let me push back on an assumption that many people make and that seems to be implicit in your question. This assumption is that “bad guys” are why so many people are stuck living under bad rules. If you were a good guy and were the mayor of New York, would you be able to build enough consensus to implement congestion pricing for traffic, at least within our lifetimes? Or would you be strong enough to be able to coerce the people who don’t want it to go along? Narratives about good guys and bad guys are always entertaining, but there is a deeper reason why people get stuck under bad rules. For those of us who live in the United States, it is easier to understand in a context like New York that is more familiar. It is quite possible that its existing political system will never allow an improvement like congestion pricing, and yet many people would happily move to a new city that had sensible pricing and smoothly flowing traffic at all hours of the day. Systems of rules are “sticky”; they are difficult for any leader or group to change. With this in mind, suppose you were the president of Cuba. Suppose you wanted to do for Cuba what Deng Xiaoping did for China: engineer the transition from communism to rapid market-led growth. To do this, you might want to create a special zone where some of your citizens could opt-in to the market system without forcing others to make this change. You might be able to do this with a charter city that you control out of the president’s office. Now suppose you also want to make a binding commitment to rule-of-law protections for the foreign investors and potential residents from foreign countries you’d like to attract to this city. Investors from the rest of the world could finance the infrastructure for a new city in exchange for fee income from users. Entrepreneurs and managers from the rest of the world might come and run the businesses that would hire millions of people. Many of these highly educated and experienced people might be émigrés who left when the island turned to communism. These investors and these potential residents will come only if you can promise them the protections afforded by the rule of law. By yourself, with the Cuban institutions that you control, there is simply no way for you to make a credible binding commitment to the rule of law. You could simply change your mind later. More importantly, your successor, whomever that may be, might want to back out of any promises you make. The only way for you and your contemporaries to make a binding, long-term commitment is to sign a treaty with a country like Canada and to use it as a third-party guarantor. In effect, what a treaty lets you do is leverage the existing credibility of Canadian institutions and bring in the rule of law.

Q. But what if some future government in Cuba wants to violate the terms of the treaty and take the city over once it is built?
A. This is why the example of Guantanamo Bay is so revealing. In practice, countries around the world, even countries that can’t get along, still respect treaties. Cuba respects the treaty with the United States, even as they complain bitterly about it. Another good example is Hong Kong. The British clearly did not want to live up to the terms of the treaty they signed, which returned control of important parts of Hong Kong to China after 99 years. China didn’t want to wait that long to get Hong Kong back. But in the end, for 99 years, they stuck to the terms of the treaty they signed. Of course, in relations between countries there is always the possibility of an act of war that violates a treaty, but few nations are willing to cross such an explicit “bright red line.” Think back to how easy it was to mobilize a military reaction to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The armed nations of the world don’t respond well to unilateral acts of war.

Q. It all sounds great as a theoretical exercise, but honestly, don’t your colleagues tell you that something like this will never happen?
A. They do say this, which is actually kind of ironic when you line it up with the other things they say. They recognize that the construct of a charter city is something that could make everyone better off. They admit that there is no technological or economic constraint that keeps us from building many of these. Then they say that for political reasons, it will never happen. They tell me that you can’t change politics; you can’t overcome nationalism; there is no way for countries to work together to extend the reach of good rules. Then these same economists suggest that we should just stick to business as usual. We should offer conventional economic advice and assume that political systems will naturally follow our advice when we point to something that could make everyone better off. But of course, they have already revealed that they don’t believe this. What’s going on here is a kind of self-censoring. Economists seem to think that we should propose things that are acceptable and that political systems will pursue, but that we should avoid proposing or even discussing things that are controversial or politically incorrect. I think we’d do our jobs better if we just said what’s true without trying to be amateur politicians. For example, back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, lots of development economists didn’t talk about the benefits of direct foreign investment and spoke instead of self-sufficiency because they thought that this was what the political actors in most poor countries wanted to hear. Now, of course, almost all developing nations are encouraging inward DFI. When we self-censored back then, we just slowed down movement toward global flows of technology via foreign investment. It happened despite what development economists said, not because of what they said. Think about the truly important changes in political systems. Back in the middle ages, suppose that someone described a legal system that enforced rules and contracts that everyone had to obey, even the country’s leaders. What would informed opinion of the day have been? “Great idea, but it will never happen.” No question it was hard to pull off, but it did happen. People always think that the unfamiliar is impossible. Many times, all that holds us back is a failure of imagination.

Post-Scarcity Prophet
by Ronald Bailey / December 2001

reason: In terms of real per capita income, Americans today are seven times richer than they were in 1900. How did that happen?
Paul Romer: Many things contributed, but the essential one is technological change. What I mean by that is the discovery of better ways to do things. In most coffee shops these days, you’ll find that the small, medium, and large coffee cups all use the same size lid now, whereas even five years ago they used to have different size lids for the different cups. That small change in the geometry of the cups means that somebody can save a little time in setting up the coffee shop, preparing the cups, getting your coffee, and getting out. Millions of little discoveries like that, combined with some very big discoveries, like the electric motor and antibiotics, have made the quality of life for people today dramatically higher than it was 100 years ago. The estimate you cite of a seven-fold increase in income — that’s the kind of number you get from the official statistics, but the truth is that if you look at the actual change in the quality of life, it’s larger than the number suggests. People who had today’s average income in 1900 were not as well off as the average person today, because they didn’t have access to cheap lattés or antibiotics or penicillin.

reason: New Growth Theory divides the world into “ideas” and “things.” What do you mean by that?
Romer: The paper that makes up the cup in the coffee shop is a thing. The insight that you could design small, medium, and large cups so that they all use the same size lid — that’s an idea. The critical difference is that only one person can use a given amount of paper. Ideas can be used by many people at the same time.

reason: What about human capital, the acquired skills and learned abilities that can increase productivity?
Romer: Human capital is comparable to a thing. You have skills as a writer, for example, and somebody — reason — can use those skills. That’s not something that we can clone and replicate. The formula for an AIDS drug, that’s something you could send over the Internet or put on paper, and then everybody in the world could have access to it. This is a hard distinction for people to get used to, because there are so many tight interactions between human capital and ideas. For example, human capital is how we make ideas. It takes people, people’s brains, inquisitive people, to go out and find ideas like new drugs for AIDS. Similarly, when we make human capital with kids in school, we use ideas like the Pythagorean theorem or the quadratic formula. So human capital makes ideas, and ideas help make human capital. But still, they’re conceptually distinct.

reason: What do you see as the necessary preconditions for technological progress and economic growth?
Romer: One extremely important insight is that the process of technological discovery is supported by a unique set of institutions. Those are most productive when they’re tightly coupled with the institutions of the market. The Soviet Union had very strong science in some fields, but it wasn’t coupled with strong institutions in the market. The upshot was that the benefits of discovery were very limited for people living there. The wonder of the United States is that we’ve created institutions of science and institutions of the market. They’re very different, but together they’ve generated fantastic benefits. When we speak of institutions, economists mean more than just organizations. We mean conventions, even rules, about how things are done. The understanding which most sharply distinguishes science from the market has to do with property rights. In the market, the fundamental institution is the notion of private ownership, that an individual owns a piece of land or a body of water or a barrel of oil and that individual has almost unlimited scope to decide how that resource should be used. In science we have a very different ethic. When somebody discovers something like the quadratic formula or the Pythagorean theorem, the convention in science is that he can’t control that idea. He has to give it away. He publishes it. What’s rewarded in science is dissemination of ideas. And the way we reward it is we give the most prestige and respect to those people who first publish an idea.

reason: Yet there is a mechanism in the market called patents and copyright, for quasi-property rights in ideas.
Romer: That’s central to the theory. To the extent that you’re using the market system to refine and bring ideas into practical application, we have to create some kind of control over the idea. That could be through patents. It could be through copyright. It might even be through secrecy. A firm can keep secret a lot of what it knows how to do.

reason: A formula for Coca-Cola?
Romer: Yes. Or take a lot of the things that Wal-Mart understands about discount retailing. They have a lot of insight about logistics and marketing which they haven’t patented or copyrighted, yet they can still make more money on it than other people because they keep it closely held within the firm. So for relying on the market — and we do have to rely on the market to develop a lot of ideas — you have to have some mechanisms of control and some opportunities for people to make a profit developing those ideas. But there are other stages in the development of ideas. Think about the basic science that led to the discovery of the structure of DNA. There are some kinds of ideas where, once those ideas are uncovered, you’d like to make them as broadly available as possible, so everybody in the world can put them to good use. There we find it efficient to give those ideas away for free and encourage everybody to use them. If you’re going to be giving things away for free, you’re going to have to find some system to finance them, and that’s where government support typically comes in. In the next century we’re going to be moving back and forth, experimenting with where to draw the line between institutions of science and institutions of the market. People used to assign different types of problems to each institution. “Basic research” got government support; for “applied product development,” we’d rely on the market. Over time, people have recognized that that’s a pretty artificial distinction. What’s becoming more clear is that it’s actually the combined energies of those two sets of institutions, often working on the same problem, that lead to the best outcomes.

reason: We hear a lot of complaints from academicians about how business and corporations are taking over university research.
Romer: I think it’s important to have a distinct realm of science and a distinct realm of the market, but it’s also very good to have interaction between those two. One of the best forms of interaction is for people who work in one to move into the other. The people in university biology or biochemistry departments complain when they see somebody go on leave from the university and start a company that’s going to develop a new drug. That’s not the way it was done 30 years ago. But this is the best way to take those freely floating, contentiously discussed ideas from the realm of science and then get them out into the market process, because the reality is that there are virtually no ideas which generate benefits for consumers if there’s not an intervening for-profit firm which commercializes them, tailors them to the market, and then delivers them. You can point to examples where things jump right from science to benefits for the consumer, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

reason: Do we run the risk of ruining science by involving it too much in the market?
Romer: Well, some people would say that everything should be patented. The danger is that if you went that far, you could actually slow the discovery process down. There are very good theoretical reasons for thinking that market and property rights are the ideal solution for dealing with things, but there are also strong theoretical reasons for thinking that in the realm of ideas, intellectual property rights are a double-edged sword. You want to rely on them to some extent to get their benefits, but you want to have a parallel, independent system and then exploit the tension that’s created between the two.

reason: What are those theoretical reasons?
Romer: It traces back to this multiple use I was describing for ideas vs. single use for things. The miracle of the market system is that for objects, especially transformed objects, there’s a single price which does two different jobs. It creates an incentive for somebody to produce the right amount of a good, and it allocates who it should go to. A farmer looks at the price of a bushel of wheat and decides whether to plant wheat or plant corn. The price helps motivate the production of wheat. On the other side, when a consumer has to decide whether to buy bread or corn meal, the price allocates the wheat between the different possible users. One price does both jobs, so you can just let the market system create the price and everything works wonderfully. With ideas, you can’t get one price to do both things. Let me give an extreme example. Oral rehydration therapy is one of those few ideas which did actually jump immediately from science to consumer benefit. It’s a simple scientific insight about how you can save the life of a child who’s suffering from diarrhea. Literally millions of lives have been saved with it. So what price should you charge people for using it? Because everybody can use the idea at the same time, there’s no tragedy of the commons in the intellectual sphere. There’s no problem of overuse or overgrazing or overfishing an idea. If you give an idea away for free, you don’t get any of the problems when you try and give objects away for free. So the efficient thing for society is to offer really big rewards for some scientist who discovers an oral rehydration therapy. But then as soon as we discover it, we give the idea away for free to everybody throughout the world and explain “Just use this little mixture of basically sugar and salt, put it in water, and feed that to a kid who’s got diarrhea because if you give them pure water you’ll kill them.” So with ideas, you have this tension: You want high prices to motivate discovery, but you want low prices to achieve efficient widespread use. You can’t with a single price achieve both, so if you push things into the market, you try to compromise between those two, and it’s often an unhappy compromise. The government doesn’t pay drug companies prizes for coming up with AIDS drugs. It says they’ve got to incur these huge expenses, but then if they succeed, they can charge a high price for selling that drug. This has generated a lot of progress and we’re prolonging the life of people with AIDS, but the high price is also denying many people access to those drugs.

reason: Over the broad sweep of human history, technological progress and economic growth were painfully slow. Why has it sped up now?
Romer: It’s so striking. Evolution has not made us any smarter in the last 100,000 years. Why for almost all of that time is there nothing going on, and then in the last 200 years things suddenly just go nuts? One answer is that the more people you’re around, the better off you’re going to be. This again traces back to the fundamental difference I described before. If everything were just objects, like trees, then more people means there’s less wood per person. But if somebody discovers an idea, everybody gets to use it, so the more people you have who are potentially looking for ideas, the better off we’re all going to be. And each time we made a little improvement in technology, we could support a slightly larger population, and that led to more people who could go out and discover some new technology. Another answer is that we developed better institutions. Neither the institutions of the market nor the institutions of science existed even as late as the Middle Ages. Instead we had the feudal system, where peasants couldn’t decide where to work and the lord couldn’t sell his land. On the science side, we had alchemy. What did you do if you discovered anything? You kept it secret. The last thing you’d do was tell anybody.

reason: How did the better institutions come about?
Romer: That’s one of the deep questions. There’s some kind of political process, some group decision process, which leads to institutions. If you go back to what I said a minute ago about the advantages of having many people, you can see that there’s a tension here. There are huge benefits to having more people and having us all interact amongst ourselves to create goods and to share ideas. But you face a really big challenge in trying to coordinate all of those decisions, because if you have large numbers of independent decision makers who aren’t coordinating their actions appropriately, you could get chaos. Think about millions of drivers with no rules of the road, no agreement about whether you drive on the left or the right. So where do these institutions come from? It was a process of discovery, just as people discovered how to make bronze. They also discovered ways to organize political life. We can use democratic choice as an alternative to, say, a hereditary system of selecting who’s the king. What’s subtle here is, How do those discoveries get into action? It’s not like a profit motive in a firm that brings software to market. There was a process of persuasion when somebody discovered that, hey, this would be a better way for us to organize ourselves. So we had political and economic thinkers — Locke, Hobbes, Smith — who managed to persuade some of their peers to adopt those institutions. So institutions came from a combination of discovery, persuasion, adoption — and then copying. When good institutions work somewhere in the world, other places can copy them.

reason: Many economic historians are critical of New Growth Theory. Economic growth is a modern phenomenon, yet it appears that New Growth Theory should apply equally to the Roman Empire or Ming China as well as the modern world.
Romer: I think that’s a caricature of the theory. New Growth Theory describes what’s possible for us but says very explicitly that if you don’t have the right institutions in place, it won’t happen. If anything, it was the old style of theory which made it sound like technological change falls from the sky like manna from heaven, regardless of how we structure our institutions. This new theory says technological change comes about if you have the right institutions, which we have had.

reason: So what’s the crucial difference between Ming China and modern economies today?
Romer: Ming China was very advanced. It had steel. It had clocks. It had movable type. Yet it was far from generating either the modern institutions of science or the institutions of the market. The market and science differ in their treatment of property rights, but they’re similar in that they rely on individuals who are free to operate under essentially no constraints by authority or tradition. It took a special set of historical circumstances to persuade people that things could work if you freed people, within certain institutional constraints, to pursue their own interests. This is where Ming China was very far away from modern notions. Part of the answer to this big question about human history has been the acceptance of relatively unfettered freedom for large numbers of individuals. It’s something we just take for granted, but if you described it in the abstract to the people of 50,000 years ago, they would never believe it could possibly work. They were conditioned to systems where there was the head man or the chief, and as numbers got at all large, there was a sense that you had to have somebody with kind of dictatorial control. It was a deep philosophical insight and deep change in the whole way we viewed the world to tolerate and accept and then truly celebrate freedom. Freedom may be the fundamental hinge on which everything turns.

reason: You often cite the combinatorial explosion of ideas as the source of economic growth. What do you mean by that?
Romer: On any conceivable horizon — I’ll say until about 5 billion years from now, when the sun explodes — we’re not going to run out of discoveries. Just ask how many things we could make by taking the elements from the periodic table and mixing them together. There’s a simple mathematical calculation: It’s 10 followed by 30 zeros. In contrast, 10 followed by 19 zeros is about how much time has elapsed since the universe was created.

reason: Of all those billions of combinations, the vast majority are probably going to be useless. So how do you find the useful ones?
Romer: This is why science and the market are so important for this discovery process. It’s really important that we focus our energy on those paths that look promising, because there are many more dead ends out there than there are useful things to discover. You have to have systems which explore lots of different paths, but then those systems have to rigorously shut off the ones that aren’t paying off and shift resources into directions which look more promising. The market does this automatically. The institutions of science could tip either way. In American science, we have vigorous competition between lots of different universities, which leads to a kind of marketplace of ideas. You can think of other institutions of science that aren’t nearly as competitive. In the national laboratories, people are in the worst case civil servants: They’re there for life, and there’s always more funding for them.

reason: Does New Growth Theory give us some new insights on how to think about monopolies?
Romer: There was an old, simplistic notion that monopoly was always bad. It was based on the realm of objects — if you only have objects and you see somebody whose cost is significantly lower than their price, it would be a good idea to break up the monopoly and get competition to reign freely. So in the realm of things, of physical objects, there is a theoretical justification for why you should never tolerate monopoly. But in the realm of ideas, you have to have some degree of monopoly power. There are some very important benefits from monopoly, and there are some potential costs as well. What you have to do is weigh the costs against the benefits. Unfortunately, that kind of balancing test is sensitive to the specifics, so we don’t have general rules. Compare the costs and benefits of copyrighting books versus the costs and benefits of patenting the human genome. They’re just very different, so we have to create institutions that can respond differentially in those cases.

reason: You have written, “There is absolutely no reason why we cannot have persistent growth as far into the future as you can imagine.” Your Stanford colleague, the biologist Paul Ehrlich, disagrees. He believes that economic growth is an unsustainable cancer that is destroying the planet. How would you go about convincing people like Ehrlich that they are wrong?
Romer: Paul seems singularly immune to being convinced. He has been on the wrong side of these issues, so I wouldn’t set that as my standard of persuading anybody. However, if I took a neutral observer who might listen to me and Paul, there’s a pretty easy way to explain why I’m right and why Paul misunderstands. You have to define what you mean by growth. If by growth you mean population, more people, then Paul is actually right. There are physical limits on how many people you can have on Earth. If we took peak population growth rates from the ’70s at 2 percent per year, you can only sustain that for a couple of hundred years before you really run into true physical constraints.

reason: I would remind you that Ehrlich said that there would be billions of people dying of starvation in the 1980s.
Romer: He got the potentials wrong and the time frame wrong, but it’s absolutely true that population growth will have to come to zero at some point here on Earth. The only debate is about when. Now, what do I mean when I say growth can continue? I don’t mean growth in the number of people. I don’t even mean growth in the number of physical objects, because you clearly can’t get exponential growth in the amount of mass that each person controls. We’ve got the same mass here on Earth that we had 100,000 years ago and we’re never going to get any more of it. What I mean is growth in value, and the way you create value is by taking that fixed quantity of mass and rearranging it from a form that isn’t worth very much into a form that’s worth much more. A canonical example is turning sand on the beach into semiconductors.

reason: What do you make of the recent protests against globalization?
Romer: When we were describing the broad sweep of human history, we talked about how hard it was for people to get used to the idea of freedom. There was another kind of adjustment that we had to make as well: We had to get used to the idea of the market, and especially market exchange among anonymous strangers. People often contrast this with the institutions of the family, where you’ve got notions of sharing and mutual obligation. Many of us have a deep psychological intuition rooted in our evolutionary history that makes us feel warmly toward the family and suspicious of large, impersonal, anonymous market exchange. I think that emotional impulse is part of what some of the environmental ideologues draw on when they attack the whole market system and corporations and modern science and everything. This is a case where human psychology that was attuned to a hunter-gatherer environment is just a little bit out of touch with a new world that’s much more interconnected, much more interactive, and in many ways a much more satisfying and rich human experience. You can idealize life in a hunter-gatherer society, but nobody wants to go through the frequent death of a child — a very common experience for almost all of history that has been reduced a phenomenal degree within human memory.

reason: How would you convince protestors of the benefits of globalization?
Romer: First, just look at the facts. The protestors are amazingly ignorant about what has happened in terms of, say, life expectancy. Life expectancy for people in the poorest countries of the world is now better than life expectancy in England when Malthus was so worried about it. Then you look at the variation of experience between the poor countries that have done best and the ones that have done worst, and try to see what the correlations are. Which countries did best? Was it the countries that adopted the market most strongly, embraced foreign investment, and tried to adopt property rights? Or was it the other countries? The evidence again is clear. One of the untold stories about the ’80s and ’90s was the really dramatic turnaround in the developing world that took place on this issue. If you track the legislative history on foreign investment, you see a colonial legacy, even as late as the ’70s, where developing countries have laws designed to keep corporations out. Then there’s this dramatic turnaround as they saw the benefits that a few key economies received by inviting in foreign investment. It’s not the people from the developing world who are making the argument that Nike is a threat to their sovereignty or well-being. It’s people in the United States. The people in the developing world understand pretty clearly where their self-interest lies.

reason: What about boosting economic growth in developed countries?
Romer: For Europe and the United States, I think we need to be thinking very hard about how we can restructure our institutions of science. How can we restructure our system of higher education? How can we make sure that it has the benefits of vigorous competition and free entry, especially of those bright young people who might do really different kinds of things? We should not assume that we’ve already got the ideal institutions and the only thing we need to do is just throw more money at them. Unfortunately, I think a lot of countries have a long way to go to catch up to the state where we are in the United States — and I’m not that happy about where we are in the United States. Many European countries simply have not recognized the power of competition between institutions. So they have monolithic, state-run university systems. That stifles competition between individual researchers and slows down the whole innovative process. They also need to let people move more flexibly from the university into the private sector and back. This is something that many countries watching venture capital start-ups have become aware of, although they’ve been slower to get their institutions to adjust.

reason: In your recent paper on doing R&D, you said you think it would be possible to raise the growth rate from its average rate of 1.8 percent between 1870 and 1992 to 2.3 percent.
Romer: Well, I was trying to set a goal. When you’re thinking about the future, you never really know what we’re going to discover, but I think there’s a reason to set for ourselves an ambition of trying to raise the rate of growth by half a percent per year. The United States achieved about 0.5 percent a year faster growth than the U.K. did since 1870, so we’ve got a historical precedent for creating institutions which lead to better innovation of the market and strengthen science significantly. We should aim for that kind of improvement again.

reason: Why would that be important?
Romer: As you accumulate these growth rates over the decades, we get much higher levels of income. That lets us deal more effectively with all the problems we face, whether it’s making good on commitments to pay for people’s health care as they get older, preserving more of the environment, or providing resources so that people can have time to be out of the labor market for a certain period of time — when they’re raising kids, say, or when they want to take an extended sabbatical. Income per capita in 2000 was about $36,000 in year 2000 dollars. If real income per person grows at 1.8 percent per year, by 2050 it will increase to $88,000 in year 2000 purchasing power. Not bad. But if it grows at 2.3 percent per year, it will grow to about $113,000 in year 2000 purchasing power. In today’s purchasing power, that extra $25,000 per person is equal to income per capita in 1984. So if we can make the choices that increase the rate of growth or real income per person to 2.3 percent per year, in 50 years we can get extra income per person equal to what in 1984 it had taken us all of human history to achieve. One policy innovation, for example, that would boost the growth rate would be to subsidize universities to train more undergraduate and graduate students in science and engineering. Also, you could give graduate students portable fellowships that they could use to pay for training in any field of natural science and engineering at any institution the students choose. Graduate students would no longer be hostage to the sometimes parochial research interests of university professors. Portable fellowships would encourage lab directors and professors to develop programs that meet the research and career interests of the students.

reason: What’s next in New Growth Theory? Any conceptual breakthroughs on the horizon?
Romer: Because the economics of ideas are so different from the economics of markets, we’re going to have to develop a richer understanding of non-market institutions, science-like institutions. This is going to be a new endeavor for economics.

reason: Do you think that there is a big role for economic historians in helping uncover this richer theory?
Romer: History is an absolutely essential body of evidence, because you can’t make inferences about long-run trends using year-to-year or quarter-to-quarter data.

reason: There is a growing movement against technological progress around the world. Why is there this negative reaction to technological progress and what can we do about it?
Romer: You’re a big believer in turmoil and creative destruction when you’re early in life, because you can knock down the old and create your new thing. Once you achieve a certain level, you tend to get very conservative and try to slow the gales down, because they might blow you over. So I think we have to seriously commit ourselves to maintaining space for new entrants and for young people. That’s one way to keep the process going. Another is to do what scholars have always done: to proselytize, to dissect incoherent arguments. I think we’ll be able to maintain this dynamic of progress that was unleashed a couple centuries ago. There will be small setbacks and a lot of noise and complaining, but the opportunities and the benefits are just too great to pull back.

reason: Could anything stop economic growth and technological progress?
Romer: Even if one society loses its nerve, there’ll be new entrants who can take up the torch and push ahead. Mancur Olson talks about Caldwell’s Law, the idea that no nation has remained truly innovative for very long. Look at Italy, and then Holland, and then the U.K., and then the United States. The pessimistic interpretation is that nobody can keep the process going. The optimistic interpretation is, Yes, you can, but somebody else comes along and the progress moves from one place to the next. We’ve seen individual societies where conservative or reactionary elements suppress the changes. What has protected us in the past is that there were other nations that could try new paths. You didn’t have the same political dynamic everywhere at once. If in the far future we reach a situation where there really is truly global political control — if multinational institutions grow more powerful over economic affairs so that there is imposed uniformity across all nations — then there’d be a loss of diversity. And if the reactionary elements got in control of those institutions, there’d be no room for the new entrant, the upstart, to adopt new ideas. But that’s a pretty distant and unlikely prospect.

John Robb interview: Open Source Warfare & Resilience
by Chris Arkenberg / Jun 15, 2010

John Robb is a globally-recognized author, technologist, and entrepreneur specializing in the complex systems of insurgency and asymmetrical warfare. His book, Brave New War, is an Amazon best-seller and established his expertise as a researcher & military consultant. He has been featured in the New York Times, The Economist, and the Wall Street Journal. His daily thoughts are collected on his blog, Global Guerrillas.

Q. In your book Brave New War you explore the changing nature of warfare. What are some recent examples of insurgency, resource conflicts, or terrorism that you feel best illustrate this new landscape?
A. Here’s an interesting story that may do the trick. Back in 2004, the US military was getting trounced in guerrillas in Iraq. Worse, the US military establishment didn’t know why. Didn’t have a clue. To correct this, I began to write about how 21st Century warfare actually worked on my blog, Global Guerrillas. Essentially, I concluded that guerrilla groups could use open source organizational models (drawn from the software industry), networked super-empowerment (freely available high tech tools, network information access, connections to a globalized economy), and systems disruption (the targeting of critical points on infrastructure networks that cause cascading failures) to defeat even the most powerful of opponents, even a global superpower.

The new theories of warfare I developed on the blog proved both predictive and very popular. As a result, I spent a lot of time on the speaking circuit in Washington DC (DoD, CIA, NSA, etc.). Of course, since my work was on a blog everyone could read it, even the guerrillas themselves.So, it was a little surprising although not unexpected when I got an e-mail in 2009 from Henry Okah, a leader of MEND (the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta). He invited me to Nigeria and stated that he was an avid reader of my blog.

It was a moment out of history, as if the UK’s General Liddell Hart (the originator of blitzkrieg armored warfare) got a note from Germany’s tank General Heinz Guderian in 1939, thanking him for his work. Here’s why: MEND’s campaign against Shell (the oil company) and the Nigerian government between 2006 and 2008 was a great example of how I thought 21st Century warfare would be fought. The organization structure was loose and organized along the lines of an open source movement. Lots of small autonomous groups joined together to take down the country’s oil infrastructure by targeting vulnerable points in the network (Nigeria is a major global oil exporter). During 2007, they were able to take out one million barrels a day of oil production. This shortfall was the reason oil prices rose to $147 a barrel. Those high prices had a negative global economic impact: the start of a global recession and a spike in default rates in US sub-prime mortgages (due to higher driving and food costs). That spike in sub-prime mortgage default rates radically accelerated the demise of our grossly over leveraged global financial sector, which in turn led to the financial panic of 2008.

In short, MEND’s disruption campaign, yielded tens of trillions of dollars in global economic damage for tens of thousands of dollars spent on making the attacks. That’s a return on investment (ROI) of 1,000,000,000%. How do nation-states survive when an unknown guerrilla group in a remote corner of the world can generate returns on that magnitude? They don’t.

Q. The United States is suffering both the economic decline of its industry and the ongoing dismantling of the social welfare apparatus supporting the citizenry. In your opinion, will this inevitably lead to some form of armed insurgency in America?
A. Yes. The establishment of a predatory and deeply unstable global economic system – beyond the control of any group of nations – is in the process of gutting developed democracies. Think in terms of the 2008 crisis, over and over again. Most of what we consider normal in the developed world, from the middle class lifestyle to government social safety nets, will be nearly gone in less than a decade. Most developed governments will be in and out of financial insolvency. Democracy, as we knew it, will wither and the nation-state bureaucracy will increasingly become an enforcer for the global bond market and kleptocratic transnational corporations. Think Argentina, Greece, Spain, Iceland, etc. As a result, the legitimacy of the developed democracies will fade and the sense of betrayal will be pervasive (think in terms of the collapse of the Soviet Union). People will begin to shift their loyalties to any local group that can provide for their daily needs. Many of these groups will be crime fueled local insurgencies and militias. In short, the developed democracies will hollow out.

Q. How big of a domestic threat is there from the narco-insurgency in Mexico and the growing power of Latin American gangs in America?
A. Very big. A threat that dwarfs anything we face in Afghanistan (a useless money pit of a war). It’s not a threat that can be solved by conventional military means, since the problem is that Mexico is a hollow state. Unlike a failed state like Somalia (utter chaos), a hollow state still retains the facade of a nation (borders, bureaucracy, etc.). However, a hollow state doesn’t exert any meaningful control over the countryside. It’s not only that the state can’t do it militarily, they don’t have anything they can offer people. So, instead, control is ceded to local groups that can provide basic levels of opt-in security, minimal services, and jobs via new connections to the global economy – think in terms of La Familia in Michoacana. The real danger to the US is that not only will these groups expand into the US (they already have), it is that these groups will accelerate the development of similar homegrown groups in the US as our middle class evaporates.

Q. Do you see a diminishing role for the state in large-scale governance? Does this compel communities to do it for themselves?
A. Yes, large scale governance is on the way out. Not only are nearly all governments financially insolvent, they can’t protect citizens from a global system that is running amok. As services and security begin to fade, local sources of order will emerge to fill the void. Hopefully, most people will opt to take control of this process by joining together with others to build resilient communities that can offer the independence, security, and prosperity that isn’t offered by the nation-state anymore. However, this is something you will have to build for yourself. Nobody is going to help you build it.

Q. In what ways are the new methods of insurgency & terror instructive towards building strategies for resiliency?
A. Here are a few of the parallels:
* Powerful technologies. Inexpensive tools that make it possible to produce locally what it used to take a global economy to produce.
* Networks. The ability to draw on the ideas of hundreds of thousands of people working on the same problems through open source tinkering networks. The ability to create new economic networks that accelerate prosperity.

Q. You’re currently writing a book about local resiliency. What are the primary global drivers behind your interest in resiliency?
A. Yes, I am. It’s about building resilient communities. Communities that offer energy independence, food security, economic prosperity, and protection. What are the global drivers that make resiliency important? Simply: stability, prosperity, and security is going away. You will soon find you are on your own, if you haven’t already. If you do nothing, you will suffer the predations of gangs, militias, and corrupt bureaucracies that will fill the void left by retreating nation-states. If you want to avoid this fate, you can build resilient communities that not only allow you and your family to survive intact, but to thrive. My goal with my new book, is to provide people with a road map on how to build resilient communities from scratch.

Q. What is the core messages you have to communities about preparing for the coming age?
A. Produce everything you can locally. Virtualize everything else. The value of your home will be based on the ability of your community to offer energy independence, food security, economic vitality, and protection. Survivalist stockpiles and zero footprint frugality are pathways to failure. Think in terms of vibrant local economic ecosystems that are exceedingly efficient, productive, and bountiful.


Curitiba’s “Surface Metro” to New York: The “Surface Metro” system uses dedicated bus lanes, and cylindrical loading tubes which allow passengers to pay in advance and board quickly. When the bus pulls alongside the tube, the bus driver opens the bus and tube doors, and the passengers walk directly onto the bus. The reduced dwell time required by the buses at the tube station results in less waiting time, increased speed and roadway capacity, and lessened air pollution. In 1992, the system was demonstrated in New York where four of the tubes and buses were installed in lower Manhattan, with buses operating for six weeks.

Sao Paulo’s Alert II to New York City: Alert II was an air pollution reduction program in Sao Paulo utilizing publicly-displayed air pollution monitors and a comprehensive public education campaign to voluntarily close down the streets of downtown Sao Paulo on dangerously smoggy days. The program was adapted in New York City by a task force including Commissioner of Environmental Protection Albert Appleton and Commissioner of Transportation Gerard Soffian. The New York version of Alert II, which was called “Green Alert/No-Drive Day” involved shutting down Park Avenue to traffic on World Environment Day, June 3, 1993.

Bangkok’s Magic Eyes Anti-littering program to Rio de Janeiro and Los Angeles: Magic Eyes is a unique anti-littering campaign targeted at children age 6-16. It utilizes green cartoon eyes (derived from traditional Thai mythology) which remind the children with songs and rhymes to pick up litter, and remind their parents to do the same. This program, which has reduced littering in Bangkok by an estimated 90% is now being replicated in Rio de Janeiro as part of the Clean Rio campaign through the Department of Sanitation and the School System. The enigmatic green eyes of the Thai version have been re-interpreted as a playful cartoon extraterrestrial more appropriate to the Brazilian culture. This innovation is also being adapted in Los Angeles, through the efforts of LA’s Best, an organization based in the Mayor’s office which designs and runs children’s educational programs.

Cairo’s Zabbaleen initiative to Manila and Bombay: In Cairo, the Zabbaleen people have eked out their existence for centuries by collecting trash and selling it to manufacturers capable of recycling it. Through the Zabbaleen initiative, the Zabbaleen have been given the training, equipment, and start-up funds necessary to organize small micro-enterprises where they convert the trash into marketable products, such as shoes, textiles, or pots and pans. In this way, the Zab baleen receives the benefits of adding value to the recyclable and can channel their profits into improving their community through the creation of better housing, schools, and health care centers. The Zabbaleen initiative is now being replicated in Bombay through the Bombay Municipal Corporation, which is incorporating the innovation into their “rag-pickers initiative”, in Manila through the Partnership of Philippine Support Service Agencies and it will also be replicated in Los Angeles by the Concerned Citizens of South Central (a community-based organization) as part of the W. K. Kellogg funded Urban Leadership for the 21st Centuty Project.

New York City’s “City Harvest” to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro: City Harvest is a non-profit organization in New York City which collects unused, unserved food from restaurants and redistributes it to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. In 1992, the basic idea of this innovation was introduced to a number of key government leaders in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo and was incorporated into the National Campaign Against Hunger and Misery, coordinated by IBASE.

Los Angeles’ Small Business Toxic Minimization Program to Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires: Through the Small Business Toxic Minimization Program, retired chemical and environmental engineers are enlisted to site visit small businesses and help them to find creative ways to reduce toxic waste, while maximizing their bottom line profit as well. In 1992, the project was transferred to Rio de Janeiro where it is now being tested on a small scale by the Guanabara Bay De-Pollution Group. This year, it is also being replicated by the Mayor’s office of Avelleneda, one of the municipalities comprising Greater Buenos Aires. Through the Small Business Toxic Minimization Program, retired chemical and environmental engineers are enlisted to site visit small businesses and help them to find creative ways to reduce toxic waste, while maximizing their bottom line profit as well. In 1992, the project was transferred to Rio de Janeiro where it is now being tested on a small scale by the Guanabara Bay De-Pollution Group. This year, it is also being replicated by the Mayor’s office of Avelleneda, one of the municipalities comprising Greater Buenos Aires.

Bombay’s “Child-to-Child” Community Health Care program to Rio de Janeiro: Through the Child-to Child Program, children in Bombay’s squatter settlements are trained as mini-doctors who teach their friends and family about basic approaches to curative and preventative health care. The program is being adapted for implementation in Rio de Janeiro, by a team led by Maria Teresa Ewbank, who represents the Escola Nacional de Daude, ENSP.

UN report: World’s biggest cities merging into ‘mega-regions’
Trend towards ‘endless cities’ could significantly affect population and wealth in the next 50 years
by John Vidal / 22 March 2010

The world’s first mega-city, comprised of Hong Kong, Shenhzen and Guangzhou, home to about 120 million people. Photograph: Nasa
The world’s mega-cities are merging to form vast “mega-regions” which may stretch hundreds of kilometres across countries and be home to more than 100 million people, according to a major new UN report. The phenomenon of the so-called “endless city” could be one of the most significant developments – and problems – in the way people live and economies grow in the next 50 years, says UN-Habitat, the agency for human settlements, which identifies the trend of developing mega-regions in its biannual State of World Cities report.

The largest of these, says the report – launched today at the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro – is the Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou region in China, home to about 120 million people. Other mega-regions have formed in Japan and Brazil and are developing in India, west Africa and elsewhere. The trend helped the world pass a tipping point in the last year, with more than half the world’s people now living in cities. The UN said that urbanisation is now “unstoppable”. Anna Tibaijuka, outgoing director of UN-Habitat, said: “Just over half the world now lives in cities but by 2050, over 70% of the world will be urban dwellers. By then, only 14% of people in rich countries will live outside cities, and 33% in poor countries.”

The development of mega-regions is regarded as generally positive, said the report’s co-author Eduardo Lopez Moreno: “They [mega-regions], rather than countries, are now driving wealth. Research shows that the world’s largest 40 mega-regions cover only a tiny fraction of the habitable surface of our planet and are home to fewer than 18% of the world’s population [but] account for 66% of all economic activity and about 85% of technological and scientific innovation,” said Moreno. “The top 25 cities in the world account for more than half of the world’s wealth,” he added. “And the five largest cities in India and China now account for 50% of those countries’ wealth.” The migration to cities, while making economic sense, is affecting the rural economy too: “Most of the wealth in rural areas already comes from people in urban areas sending money back,” Moreno said.

The growth of mega-regions and cities is also leading to unprecedented urban sprawl, new slums, unbalanced development and income inequalities as more and more people move to satellite or dormitory cities. “Cities like Los Angeles grew 45% in numbers between 1975-1990, but tripled their surface area in the same time. This sprawl is now increasingly happening in developing countries as real estate developers promote the image of a ‘world-class lifestyle’ outside the traditional city,” say the authors.

Urban sprawl, they say, is the symptom of a divided, dysfunctional city. “It is not only wasteful, it adds to transport costs, increases energy consumption, requires more resources, and causes the loss of prime farmland.” “The more unequal that cities become, the higher the risk that economic disparities will result in social and political tension. The likelihood of urban unrest in unequal cities is high. The cities that are prospering the most are generally those that are reducing inequalities,” said Moreno.

In a sample survey of world cities, the UN found the most unequal were in South Africa. Johannesburg was the least equal in the world, only marginally ahead of East London, Bloemfontein, and Pretoria. Latin American, Asian and African cities were generally more equal, but mainly because they were uniformly poor, with a high level of slums and little sanitation. Some of the most the most egalitarian cities were found to be Dhaka and Chittagong in Bangladesh.

The US emerged as one of the most unequal societies with cities like New York, Chicago and Washington less equal than places like Brazzaville in Congo-Brazzaville, Managua in Nicaragua and Davao City in the Phillippines. “The marginalisation and segregation of specific groups [in the US] creates a city within a city. The richest 1% of households now earns more than 72 times the average income of the poorest 20% of the population. In the ‘other America’, poor black families are clustered in ghettoes lacking access to quality education, secure tenure, lucrative work and political power,” says the report.

The never-ending city
Cities are pushing beyond their limits and are merging into new massive conurbations known as mega-regions, which are linked both physically and economically. Their expansion drives economic growth but also leads to urban sprawl, rising inequalities and urban unrest. The biggest mega-regions, which are at the forefront of the rapid urbanisation sweeping the world, are:
• Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou, China, home to about 120 million people;
• Nagoya-Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe, Japan, expected to grow to 60 million people by 2015;
• Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo region with 43 million people in Brazil.

The same trend on an even larger scale is seen in fast-growing “urban corridors”:
• West Africa: 600km of urbanisation linking Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana, and driving the entire region’s economy;
• India: From Mumbai to Dehli;
• East Asia: Four connected megalopolises and 77 separate cities of over 200,000 people each occur from Beijing to Tokyo via Pyongyang and Seoul.

The Future of War and the Indirect City

In 1564, the Tuscan urban planner, archaeologist, military theorist, mathematician and writer Girolamo Maggi published a work of military urbanism called Della fortificatione delle città, written by his colleague Giacomo Fusto Castriotto. That work, on the fortification of cities, devoted several passages to what might be called indirect or soft fortification: that is, protecting an urban population from attack not through the use of heavy walls, inner citadels, or armed bastions—although the book is, of course, filled with such things—but through a complex street plan.

Indirect streets and narrow walkways could be put to use, Castriotto and Maggi argued, as agents of spatial disorientation, leading an invader everywhere but where they actually wanted to go. It was a kind of urban judo, or the city as martial art. The city itself could be weaponized, in other words, its layout made militarily strategic: turning the speed at which your enemy arrives into exactly what would later entrap him, lost, unable to retrace his footsteps, fatally vulnerable and spatially exposed.

The CCA exhibited much of its collected manuscripts on urban fortification seventeen years ago, under the name The Geometry of Defence: Fortification Treatises and Manuals, 1500-1800. In the accompanying pamphlet, curator and former CCA historiographer Michael J. Lewis describes the geometric complexification that the fortified cities of the Renaissance underwent in the name of self-protection (Alberto Pérez-Gómez’s Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science also contains a very lengthy history of this same material and is well worth consulting in full). A constantly shifting imbalance of power between the wall-builders and the invaders led to new spatializations of the metropolis. Whether due to the invention of gunpowder, massed assaults or simply new building techniques, the urban landscape was constantly reformatted according to the weapons that might be used against it.

Of course, this will be a very familiar story to most readers, so I don’t want to repeat it; I do, however, want to focus on the idea of forsaking mass—thick walls—for complexity in the name of strategic disorientation. There are well-known stories, for instance, of English coastal villages during World War II removing their road and street signs so as to prevent logical navigation by German aggressors, even erecting dummy signs to send confused Nazi paratroopers wandering off in the wrong direction.

But if the well-fortified Renaissance city could be seen, for the sake of argument, as something like the Hummer of military urbanism, what is the city-as-Bruce-Lee? A city that is lean, even physically underwhelming, but brilliantly fast and highly flexible? What is the city that needs no defensive walls at all?

There are a variety of possible answers here, all of which would be interesting to discuss; but I’m most struck by the possibility that the phenomenon recently dubbed the feral city is, in a sense, the anti-fortress in exactly this spatial sense. In a 2003 paper for the Naval War College Review, author Richard J. Norton describes the feral city as “a great metropolis covering hundreds of square miles. Once a vital component in a national economy, this sprawling urban environment is now a vast collection of blighted buildings, an immense petri dish of both ancient and new diseases, a territory where the rule of law has long been replaced by near anarchy in which the only security available is that which is attained through brute power.” From the perspective of a war planner or soldier, Norton explains, the feral city is spatially impenetrable; it is a maze resistant to aerial mapping and far too dangerous to explore on foot. Indeed, its “buildings, other structures, and subterranean spaces would offer nearly perfect protection from overhead sensors, whether satellites or unmanned aerial vehicles,” Norton writes, creating, in the process, an environment where soldiers are as likely to die from rabies, tetanus, and wild dog attacks as they are from armed combat.

I’m led to wonder here what a 21st-century defensive literature of the feral city might look like—from temporary barricades to cartographically incoherent slums experimenting with limited forms of micro-sovereignty. If the feral city is a city with no external walls but an infinite interior—endless spaces made of oblique architecture and indirect streets—then its ability to defend itself comes precisely through letting invaders in and disorienting them, not by keeping people out.

So if a city does away with defensive walls altogether, what specific spatial strategies are left for it to protect itself? For instance, can a city deliberately be made feral as an act of preemptive self-defense—and, if so, what architectural steps would be necessary to achieve such a thing? Channeling Archigram—or perhaps even Cisco—we might call this the insurgent instant city complete with its own infrastructural practices, its own rogue designers, and its own anti-architects.

How, then, could the spatial practice of urban feralization be codified, and what architectural lessons might be learned if this were to happen? Michael J. Lewis, describing the treatises on display at the CCA nearly two decades ago for The Geometry of Defence, refers to “fortification literature” or “the literature of the fortification,” including the publishing practices peculiar to this—for its time—top secret field of study. Privately circulated manuscripts, incomplete essayistic reflections, and even word of mouth only gradually solidified into full-length narratives; only at that point were they intended to communicate finely tuned, often firsthand, military knowledge of the city under siege to anyone who might want to discover it, whether that was a king, a layperson, or an enemy general (indeed, much of the literature of fortification went on to the form the core of an emergent field known as urban planning).

In another 50, 100, or even 500 years, then, will there be a defensive literature of the feral city, its systematic description, techniques for its defense (or obliteration), and its urban logic (or lack thereof)? Even if only on the level of urban form, this would be a fascinating journey, going from Castriotto’s and Maggi’s indirect streets to whole cities gone wild in the name of resisting outside intervention.

Redrawing the Map of the Future
by P. H. Liotta and James F. Miskel / Spring 2004

When the Cold War ended, scholars, pundits, and policymakers turned to the task of defining the new world order and America’s place in it. Some warned of coming anarchy or of the clash of civilizations. After September 11, those warnings seemed prescient. Since 9/11, our sense of insecurity has only increased, as has our reliance on military solutions to the problems we see before us. Yet the more we rely on military force, the less secure we feel. Perhaps the difficulty is in how we see the world that confronts us. It is as if we are trying to find our way using an old map, only to discover that the roads marked no longer exist.

One new map that may be particularly useful in helping us to see the contours of the future is the “earthlights” image reproduced here and available on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s website. The image is a composite of satellite photographs taken over a period of months that recorded the illumination from city lights, producing, according to NASA, a unique measure of “the spatial extent of urbanization.” The earthlights map forces us to think about some disturbing trends and effects that, if left unchecked, will likely come to haunt us in the coming decades. These developments, broadly considered here, are: the changing demographics of cities, particularly in what we call the Lagos-Cairo-Karachi-Jakarta arc; the increased possibility of failing regions within functioning but troubled states; and the rise of the “feral city” in states and regions inextricably linked to the process of globalization.

As one looks at the earthlights image, patterns of world order and disorder begin to emerge, and it becomes clear that tectonic forces are at play in the globe’s physical, economic, cultural, and political geography. The patterns of light suggest the inevitability of Central and Eastern Europe drawing ever closer, like moths to a flame, toward an enlarging European Union. Likewise, North Africa is being pulled away from the rest of Africa—and from the Middle East, despite certain cultural ties—and drawn toward a larger Euro-Mediterranean community. The earthlights image is revealing in other ways as well. It is interesting to see that India and Pakistan, which began from relatively equal starting points at partition in 1947 have gone in radically different directions: all of India is lit, while Pakistan is dark. The same story is evident on the Korean peninsula, where the thirty-eighth parallel forms a dramatic dividing line between the lights of South Korea and the dark shadow that is North Korea. The lights in the People’s Republic of China are clustered in the east, along the country’s Pacific coast, not evenly distributed throughout the country as in Taiwan or Japan. This suggests the eventual formation of “two Chinas”—one consisting of ever more densely populated urban zones, the other of underdeveloped and undergoverned hinterlands.

It is our view that we must pay greater attention to the shadows on the earthlights map. Like the drunk who loses his keys in the dark and looks for them under the streetlight because that is the only place he can see, we tend to focus our gaze on places where the lights are shining, even though the keys to greater security lie elsewhere. The attacks of September 11 not only revealed that Americans were vulnerable on their home soil; there also came the disturbing awareness that the new threat we faced came not from an enemy whose identity and capabilities were “in the light,” but from one operating from the shadows.

There now seems to be an emerging understanding that certain nontraditional security issues that have long plagued the so-called developing world—and which traditionally minded, state-centric strategists were content to consign to often ineffective nonstate entities (the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations, corporations)— have circled back to haunt us. This is not to say that traditional state-centric security problems are things of the past, or that military force will have no role to play. They are not, and it will, as the war in Iraq demonstrates. But the “boomerang” effect of these nontraditional security issues could increasingly affect the policy decisions and options open to the developed states. Our concern is that while the military is wrestling with the challenge of developing ever more impressive means of deterring and defeating “in the light” threats, no agency of government at the state or multi-state level (including the U.S. military) is doing enough to understand and overcome the threats that are taking shape in the shadowy and dark areas on the earthlights map.

Anarchy, governmental collapse, ethnic rivalry, cultural grievances, religious-ideo-logical extremism, environmental degradation, natural resource depletion, competition for economic resources, drug trafficking, alliances between narco-traffickers and terrorists, the proliferation of “inhumane weapons,” cyberwar, and the spread of infectious disease threaten us all. We cannot isolate ourselves from their effects. The question is not whether we should concentrate on traditional “hard” security issues, which normally derive from the relationships between states, or on “soft” nontraditional security issues, which are not confined by national boundaries. The answer is that we must focus on both.

As our understanding of security concerns broadens and deepens, the traditional assumption that states and governments are the sole guarantors of security will be increasingly challenged. This is because our security may depend on how we cope with the broader human dilemma. Addressing this dilemma will require sustainable development strategies and must take into account population growth, particularly in the emerging world; the rapid spread of epidemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS; the impact of climate change, including shifts in precipitation patterns and rising sea levels; water scarcity; soil erosion and desertification; and increased urbanization and the growth of “mega-cities” around the globe. In the Lagos-Cairo-Karachi-Jakarta arc over the next two decades, more and more people will be compelled by economic or environmental pressures to migrate to cities that lack the infrastructure to support rapid, concentrated population growth.

To take just one of these problems, most of the states in the Middle East are already experiencing water scarcity (some have per capita water availability rates that are significantly lower than the minimums recommended by the World Health Organization) and water resources will obviously be stressed even further as the population surges by a third between 2000 and 2015. This population growth in the Middle East will likely have a deleterious effect on nearby regions and perhaps the developed world. The combination of indigenous population growth and water scarcity will undoubtedly lead to pressures on the Middle East’s large number of guest workers to return home, often to countries with struggling economies, where jobs are scarce. The return home of guest workers will eliminate remittances (for some countries the value of remittances from overseas workers is greater than the state’s foreign aid receipts) and increase the number of individuals who will draw upon the home government’s already limited resources. The differences between Israel’s low natural population growth rate and the high rates in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as in neighboring Arab states mean that Israel will be demographically swamped unless it aggressively promotes immigration—the very thing that water scarcity (and terrorism) seem likely to discourage. It also suggests that however the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is resolved, the real power struggle in the region may soon revolve around natural resources.

The Mega-City
Truly cataclysmic demographic changes will occur in the Lagos-Cairo-Karachi-Jakarta arc, with momentous shifts in the global landscape resulting from the “flocking” of people to urban centers. According to the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts, as well as data compiled by the National Geographic Society and the United Nations Population Division, world population will reach 7.2 billion in 2015, up from 6.1 billion in 2000. Ninety-five percent of the growth will take place in “emerging” countries, and nearly all projected population growth will occur in rapidly expanding urban areas.

The population of the greater New York metropolitan area, which stood at 12 million in 1950, is projected to grow to 17.6 million in 2015. In comparison, Nigeria’s capital city of Lagos, which had a population of 1 million in 1950, is projected to have 24.4 million inhabitants by 2015. While the population of Los Angeles is projected to increase over the same period from 4 million to 14.2 million, Karachi’s population will explode from 1.1 million to 20.6 million. Cairo in 1950 was a city of 2.1 million; in 2015 it will have 14.4 million inhabitants. Jakarta’s population will have grown from 2.8 million to 21.2 million. Thus, the real cause for concern lies not in the developed world but in the “population belt” from Lagos to Jakarta.

Urbanization in and of itself is neither a good nor a bad thing. Tokyo’s population is projected to reach 28.7 million in 2015, but Tokyo will likely be far better equipped to handle the infrastructure requirements of the mega-city than the cities of the emerging world. Seventy-two percent of Japanese already live in cities, and Japan has accommodated itself to an urbanized existence. It is unlikely, however, that Lagos or Dhaka or Tehran will be able to sustain growth rates such as those projected above. Indeed, it is doubtful that many cities in developed states could sustain such rates of growth as cities in the emerging world are experiencing. If, for example, New York’s rate of growth were the same as Dhaka’s (the capital of Bangladesh will have a population of 19 million by 2015, up from 10 million in 2000, and from 400,000 in 1950), the (Really) Big Apple would have a population just shy of 600 million people by 2015. As it seems unlikely that even a city in the world’s richest country could handle such rapid growth, how will impoverished Bangladesh accommodate such a dramatic surge in the population of its capital city?

Compounding the problem is the fact that in numerous regions where U.S. interests are involved we will see the continued reality of a (threat-based) security dilemma along with the rise of various (vulnerabilitybased) human dilemmas. By 2015, the number of cities with a population of over 5 million will skyrocket from 8 (in 1950) to 58, and we may see more than 600 cities worldwide with populations in excess of 1 million inhabitants by 2015; in 1950, by contrast, there were only 86 such cities. As our colleague Richard J. Norton notes in the August 2003 issue of the Naval War College Review, many of the burgeoning cities of the future may well become petri dishes of instability, disease, and terrorism. In other words, at least some of these cities will grow far beyond the “natural” carrying capacity of their respective national governments, with the result that governmental infrastructure and public services will be stretched past the breaking point. Cities in this condition will pose a particularly serious security threat because they will have both substantial pockets of darkness within their municipal boundaries and extensive commercial, communications, and transportation links to the rest of the world. In other words, it will be easy for groups in these urban pockets of darkness to export instability.

Pockets of Darkness
The issue of state failure began to be widely discussed in the 1990s. Instead of the peace dividend that was the promise of the end of the Cold War, instability and a collapse of governance appeared to be on the rise. The “failed state” was seen as a breeding ground for anarchy and violence, and the natural home of terrorists, warlords, ethnic militias, holy warriors, criminal gangs, arms dealers, and drug merchants. Policymakers hoped that research into state failure might provide early warning indicators that would trigger timely international interventions to prevent collapse, and to this end the Central Intelligence Agency established the State Failure Task Force to conduct a comprehensive examination of the issue. (The task force developed a “failure” model, with a claimed predictive accuracy of 67 percent.) Yet, as events of the past few years have illustrated, there are other bubbling petri dishes that deserve greater attention—pockets of darkness in undergoverned areas within functional but struggling states.

The para-states that take shape in these pockets of darkness (for example, the war-lord-dominated “tribal areas” of Afghanistan and the militia-run enclaves in Bosnia and Kosovo) develop Night of the Living Dead characteristics. Possessing some of the functional aspects of statehood, but lacking the civic equivalent of balanced, flexible limbs, these figurative zombies stagger into the future, unable to function independently without massive and continuous life support—in the form of U.N. aid, or bilateral assistance from other states, or “export earnings” from various criminal enterprises. These para-states and lawless zones inside “nonfailing” states often present greater threats to international stability than do failed states. Examples include eastern Colombia where narco-terrorists have operated for years inside remote valleys; the “lawless” triangle where Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina meet and where Hezbollah, arms dealers, and smugglers of all stripes conduct business freely; the hinterlands of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where opposing ethnic groups, invading armies, and gangs pillage the countryside and terrorize the people (albeit at a temporarily lower level of intensity since the U.N. intervention in 2003); and Afghanistan beyond the outskirts of Kabul and Kandahar.

Focusing on failed states may have caused us to pay insufficient attention to the possibility that undergoverned zones in remote rural areas—or the mega-cities on the Lagos-Cairo-Karachi-Jakarta arc—may pose a greater threat to developed states than do failed states. It is inevitable that feral zones will emerge in both the ungoverned outback and inside cities along the arc.

Further compounding the problem posed by rapid urban population growth is the “youth bulge” phenomenon. In the near future, almost half of the adult populations of many African, Middle Eastern, and Southwest Asian countries will be between the ages of 15 and 29. Despite the recent spate of Chechen and Palestinian suicide bombings by women, young men are responsible for most acts of violence. As the overall population grows, so too will the population of young males looking for employment and educational services. If, as seems likely in the emerging megacities of the arc, there are too few jobs and educational opportunities to satisfy the demand, discontent, crime, and urban instability will result.

Other pockets of darkness are also likely to form around semi-urbanized collections of “displaced” populations. Tens of millions of refugees now live in semi-permanent camps in the West Bank and Gaza, Sudan, and the Great Lakes region of Aftica. These veritable slums, with their swollen populations—where life is lived without opportunity or hope—are themselves evolving into para-states, fertile ground for instability. The only saving grace from a security viewpoint is that the displaced are typically not well connected by road, rail, or air to the rest of the world and thus will be less efficient exporters of violence to distant locations.

Finding a Way Out
In a world that is becoming more interconnected economically and physically, it is impossible to separate zones of light from pockets of darkness. Many of the states that will be most adversely affected by demographic pressures and rapid urbanization are already entwined in the globalization process and are simply too important to be left to their own devices. Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia fall into this category. They are struggling—though not failed—states whose stability, or lack thereof, will influence security and economic trends all along the arc of emerging mega-cities.

We need to encourage internal public sector reform and public security improvements in states where governments are currently failing to keep the lights lit, where urban population growth is likely to lead to failure at the municipal level or force overstretched governments to withdraw from remote rural areas. If September 11 taught us anything, it is that our security is inextricably connected to domestic governance shortcomings elsewhere. Unfortunately, the United Nations, by virtue of its own inefficiency, the divergent agendas of its leading members, and its orientation toward state-level solutions, is not up to the task of promoting effective public sector reform. A more flexible approach is called for. We need to better organize the efforts of all of the actors in the international community: governments, international organizations, international nongovernmental organizations, national civil society organizations, and for-profit corporations. As Jonathan Lash, president of World Resources Institute, has aptly put it, what we need is a “shift from the stiff formal waltz of traditional diplomacy to the jazzier dance” of issue-based networks and creative partnerships.

Future strategies must move beyond policing actions and military interventions toward active prevention of resource scarcity and governance failures. Active prevention was the central premise of the strategy of cooperative security, developed by former secretary of defense William Perry and others at the Brookings Institution shortly after the end of the Cold War. The idea was to prevent discontent from leading to internal armed conflict by creating jobs, reducing poverty, and improving governance—especially in urban areas—before aggrieved groups resort to violence. Our current strategy of preemptive war, of using the military to force regime change and then for nation building in sustained “governance stability operations”—in essence for “kicking the door in” and then “putting the door back on”—is ill-suited to the challenges ahead.

A few heretics (most notably, Robert D. Kaplan, the author of The Coming Anarchy) claim that development—not poverty— leads to unrest by raising expectations. The destabilizing effects of rising expectations are undeniable, but in this wired and interconnected world, expectations are likely to continue to rise no matter what national governments do. The destabilizing effects will be most dramatic in struggling states with overpopulated cities.

Unfortunately, the typical response to situations of such complexity is to do nothing. Yet, that cannot be our response. Our first order of business must be to promote a sense of urgency. Then we must devise approaches for radical improvements in public infrastructure and governance—particularly in the states and municipalities along the Lagos-Cairo-Karachi-Jakarta arc. If we are to redraw the map of the future, there must be a new division of labor among governments, international agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and corporations. Perhaps what is needed is the equivalent of the 1972 Stockholm Conference, which launched the global environmental movement and established the United Nations Environment Program as the environmental conscience of the world. Another example of an attempt to build new approaches to global problems was the U.N. Habitat II Conference, held in Istanbul in 1996. Neither of these initiatives was completely successful in mobilizing international support, but they represent useful starting points.

This is not an argument for supremacy by stealth or to justify future intervention. But unless we act to contain, if not reverse, the worrisome trends outlined here, we are likely to be in for decades of military engagement and increased insecurity. Rather than justifying intervention, we ought to be thinking about investment. When we look at the map of the lit and unlit world, we can see where work needs to be done.

{P. H. Liotta holds the Jerome E. Levy Chair of Economic Geography and National Security and James F. Miskel is associate dean of academics and professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed here are the authors’ own and do not represent those of the Department of the Navy.}

MEANWHILE : CONTEST to PRODUCE LIGHT[showUid]=11&cHash=f3709743abb32487cfe52cc8677d5248

The five winners of the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa 2010 Outstanding Product Awardswere recently announced:

by Nathan Wyeth / May 20, 2010
Looking for Killer Apps at Lighting Africa 2010

At the World Bank/IFC Lighting Africa Conference in Nairobi, some numbers are looking good for a change. There are still 1.6 billion people without access to electricity, but decreasing costs of solar panels and LED lighting have put individual solar-powered lamps at a price that is affordable for much of the base of the pyramid. Solar lantern distribution is projected to grow at 25-40% rates over the next 5 years in Africa.

Does this mean the path to modern energy for rural Africa is in clear view? I’m not sure it is, which is why when I’m meeting people at this conference sponsored by the IFC’s Lighting Africa program, I’m saying that I’m still looking for killer apps. Engineering better, cheaper products is often a process of putting one foot in front of the other, but distributing them will require side-stepping the barriers that solar energy has continually run up against at every price point.

And even if the goal is defined as lighting for Africa, lighting products themselves may not be the best starting point or a standalone approach, as opposed to more comprehensive platforms for energy access – laying the groundwork to go from portable pico-power retail products to household and community scale energy distribution, in terms of both business infrastructure and customer readiness/ability.

Even at these huge projected growth rates that are probably as much as any single product distribution company can handle, Gaurav Gupta of Dalberg Development Advisors is quick to point out that over 5 years, that will take solar lighting market penetration in Africa from an estimated 1.3% to an estimated 2.3%. So I am on the lookout for approaches that will also open up whole new horizontal growth and distribution in this sector.

I’m not sure I’ve found the killer apps here just yet, but there are promising new ideas floating around, some embodied in new start-ups operating in Africa. Here are a few things that I’m looking for:

– Defining and increasing the value of solar by linking to income and tangible payback. There is generalized information available on what people currently pay for kerosene lighting, but very fuzzy understanding of actual willingness to pay for new energy products – and this may reflect unclear marketing and product positioning as much as lack of data collection.

Anecdote-based discussion is unfolding at this conference about whether end-user financing is necessary for solar lighting products that cost anywhere from $10-50, illuminating the fact that while product designers have been focused on a combination of lighting price and quality, there’s no clearly established understanding of what people will pay for modern lighting at what income levels.

What is clear is that payback and specific utility matters more than price. For example, Barefoot Power is having great success with its Firefly 12 product – not the least expensive in its line – because this can charge mobile phones. If solar is linked to specific utility, or payback for lighting is clearly defined, customers will be able to tell retailers what they will pay for it and the supply chain will be able to adjust accordingly.

– Building customer relationships. What makes solar attractive as an energy source makes it more difficult as a retail product – if you do a good job with your lamp product you won’t see your customers again for a few years and they won’t need to buy a single thing from you until they’re ready for a second lantern. But as a new technology, solar product companies need to develop intense technology loyalty and evangelism and probably need to be focused as much on reselling to existing customers and finding new ones. How to stay connected to customers who hopefully won’t have to talk to you more than once ever few years?

Companies that offer energy as a service might begin by suppling rechargeable battery stations that can power a home’s electricity need, but could then build on this by installing distributed power generation with the same customers at a much lower cost of acquisition and much greater readiness to install and value a household solar system.

– Building distribution and maintenance platforms. As alluded to above, electricity is a unique product. It’s only useful in tandem with other products, and some certainty of supply is needed before those products become worth it.

Distribution platforms offer the opportunity to meet energy needs beyond lighting – both in terms of energy supply and the appliances that can be linked specifically to distributed energy generation. For example, an energy efficient fan is valuable when it can be linked to a reliable energy supply, and solar panels gain in value when they can power an energy efficient fan. I would love to find an energy company that could sell both to a household in tandem.

In places with even more constrained ability to pay for energy services, a village energy vendor who recharges phones or LED lamps from a solar array can become a future distributor of products and the village expert in repairing solar panels.

These ideas are peeking through the cracks here at Lighting Africa, but perhaps by default, disruptive ideas are not an easy fit for this kind of forum, focused specifically on delivering lighting. Development banks operate on a programmatic basis, with certain starting points, end points, and program strategies in between. A focus on lighting markets – rather than energy markets – is one such construct that I’m not sure is helping here. Within this, the IFC is focusing on product quality. I can’t disagree with supporting high quality lighting products, but this presupposes that retail solar lantern distribution is actually the first step that you want for electrifying Africa. Disruptive approaches may pop up here but will go against the grain.

Battery re-charge subscription services, income-generating village energy vending opportunities, and technology-agnostic energy retail chains are among the disruptive and promising approaches that I’m seeing here. Mobile communications and payments can and will be wrapped into effective approaches – they may become killer apps in themselves. And as one persuasive participant said towards the end of the conference, when solar companies get as smart at marketing at Safaricom has in Kenya, these products will find their way into customers’ hands. This sector is moving fast but the clear winners have yet to emerge.


The term and meaning of a Resource-Based Economy was originated by Jacque Fresco. It is a system in which all goods and services are available without the use of money, credits, barter or any other system of debt or servitude. All resources become the common heritage of all of the inhabitants, not just a select few. The premise upon which this system is based is that the Earth is abundant with plentiful resource; our practice of rationing resources through monetary methods is irrelevant and counter productive to our survival.

Modern society has access to highly advanced technology and can make available food, clothing, housing and medical care; update our educational system; and develop a limitless supply of renewable, non-contaminating energy. By supplying an efficiently designed economy, everyone can enjoy a very high standard of living with all of the amenities of a high technological society.

A resource-based economy would utilize existing resources from the land and sea, physical equipment, industrial plants, etc. to enhance the lives of the total population. In an economy based on resources rather than money, we could easily produce all of the necessities of life and provide a high standard of living for all.

Consider the following examples: At the beginning of World War II the US had a mere 600 or so first-class fighting aircraft. We rapidly overcame this short supply by turning out more than 90,000 planes a year. The question at the start of World War II was: Do we have enough funds to produce the required implements of war? The answer was No, we did not have enough money, nor did we have enough gold; but we did have more than enough resources. It was the available resources that enabled the US to achieve the high production and efficiency required to win the war. Unfortunately this is only considered in times of war.

In a resource-based economy all of the world’s resources are held as the common heritage of all of Earth’s people, thus eventually outgrowing the need for the artificial boundaries that separate people. This is the unifying imperative.

We must emphasize that this approach to global governance has nothing whatever in common with the present aims of an elite to form a world government with themselves and large corporations at the helm, and the vast majority of the world’s population subservient to them. Our vision of globalization empowers each and every person on the planet to be the best they can be, not to live in abject subjugation to a corporate governing body.

Our proposals would not only add to the well being of people, but they would also provide the necessary information that would enable them to participate in any area of their competence. The measure of success would be based on the fulfilment of one’s individual pursuits rather than the acquisition of wealth, property and power.

At present, we have enough material resources to provide a very high standard of living for all of Earth’s inhabitants. Only when population exceeds the carrying capacity of the land do many problems such as greed, crime and violence emerge. By overcoming scarcity, most of the crimes and even the prisons of today’s society would no longer be necessary.

A resource-based economy would make it possible to use technology to overcome scarce resources by applying renewable sources of energy, computerizing and automating manufacturing and inventory, designing safe energy-efficient cities and advanced transportation systems, providing universal health care and more relevant education, and most of all by generating a new incentive system based on human and environmental concern.

Many people believe that there is too much technology in the world today, and that technology is the major cause of our environmental pollution. This is not the case. It is the abuse and misuse of technology that should be our major concern. In a more humane civilization, instead of machines displacing people they would shorten the workday, increase the availability of goods and services, and lengthen vacation time. If we utilize new technology to raise the standard of living for all people, then the infusion of machine technology would no longer be a threat.

A resource-based world economy would also involve all-out efforts to develop new, clean, and renewable sources of energy: geothermal; controlled fusion; solar; photovoltaic; wind, wave, and tidal power; and even fuel from the oceans. We would eventually be able to have energy in unlimited quantity that could propel civilization for thousands of years. A resource-based economy must also be committed to the redesign of our cities, transportation systems, and industrial plants, allowing them to be energy efficient, clean, and conveniently serve the needs of all people.

What else would a resource-based economy mean? Technology intelligently and efficiently applied, conserves energy, reduces waste, and provides more leisure time. With automated inventory on a global scale, we can maintain a balance between production and distribution. Only nutritious and healthy food would be available and planned obsolescence would be unnecessary and non-existent in a resource-based economy.

As we outgrow the need for professions based on the monetary system, for instance lawyers, bankers, insurance agents, marketing and advertising personnel, salespersons, and stockbrokers, a considerable amount of waste will be eliminated. Considerable amounts of energy would also be saved by eliminating the duplication of competitive products such as tools, eating utensils, pots, pans and vacuum cleaners. Choice is good. But instead of hundreds of different manufacturing plants and all the paperwork and personnel required to turn out similar products, only a few of the highest quality would be needed to serve the entire population. Our only shortage is the lack of creative thought and intelligence in ourselves and our elected leaders to solve these problems. The most valuable, untapped resource today is human ingenuity.

With the elimination of debt, the fear of losing one’s job will no longer be a threat This assurance, combined with education on how to relate to one another in a much more meaningful way, could considerably reduce both mental and physical stress and leave us free to explore and develop our abilities.

If the thought of eliminating money still troubles you, consider this: If a group of people with gold, diamonds and money were stranded on an island that had no resources such as food, clean air and water, their wealth would be irrelevant to their survival. It is only when resources are scarce that money can be used to control their distribution. One could not, for example, sell the air we breathe or water abundantly flowing down from a mountain stream. Although air and water are valuable, in abundance they cannot be sold.

Money is only important in a society when certain resources for survival must be rationed and the people accept money as an exchange medium for the scarce resources. Money is a social convention, an agreement if you will. It is neither a natural resource nor does it represent one. It is not necessary for survival unless we have been conditioned to accept it as such.



Cleveland razed! Rust Belt remaking foreclosures into forests
by Nin-Hai Tseng / June 25, 2010

In a housing market still struggling to regain strength, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have quickly become two of the nation’s biggest landlords. By the end of March, the troubled mortgage finance companies had taken over 163,828 foreclosed houses. That’s more homes than there are in Seattle. In hopes of recouping some losses, Fannie and Freddie are working to sell the houses. In a healthy housing market, that makes sense. But they wouldn’t be in this predicament if that were the case. We’re still grappling with the same housing problems: too much supply, not enough demand.

How can the nation downsize with grace?
A growing chorus believes turning foreclosed homes into wide-open spaces — neighborhood parks, community gardens, or even urban forests — is the way to do it. It’s not exactly a far-fetched idea. Fortune has learned The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit land conservation organization, is examining Wells Fargo’s (WFC, Fortune 500) portfolio of foreclosed homes to buy tracts in order to return the land to a greener state. Record foreclosures and lower land prices has created some unlikely opportunities — what the organization is calling a “green lining” to the real-estate crash. “We’ve always worked with banks to acquire properties, but obviously there’s a lot more pieces and much more opportunities these days,” said Will Rogers, president of The Trust for Public Land, which help governments put together financing to acquire lands through grants, public dollars and private fundraising. For decades American cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, Youngstown, and St. Louis have responded to everything from white flight to population decline by converting abandoned lots or properties into plots for public uses. To be sure, not every structure has been demolished and turned into greener spaces. Some in good shape have been transformed into affordable housing, but creating open space has become a viable option for cities trying to shrink prosperously.

Conservation of land has its roots in the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. In keeping with the spirit of our late President, known as the Father of Conservation and a crusader for saving wild places, the idea of turning unneeded homes into green space is worth exploring. Roosevelt helped create 150 national forests, five national parks, and 18 national monuments, among other conservation projects. Altogether, he was instrumental in the conservation of about 230 million acres. “Roosevelt is famous for being a conservationist — he was onto this idea that the great outdoors built strong Americans,” says Armando Carbonell of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a Cambridge, Mass.-based policy research organization. “The amount of failure of real estate projects is so great that there are probably a lot of opportunities out there.”

In 2008 the federal government seized Fannie and Freddie because they were deeply troubled by bad loans. The companies hold titles to the foreclosed properties, and have hired real estate and marketing agencies to help sell their inventory. When a property is sold, the companies take payment and give the new homeowners title. As of the end of March, Freddie had taken over 53,831 homes, mostly concentrated in states with some of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates: California, Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Illinois, and Georgia. Listings for homes in California ranged from $19,000 to $59,000; those in Florida, $5,000 to $24,000; in Illinois, $2,000 to $36,000; in Arizona, $15,500 to $37,500; in Michigan, $100 to $19,900; and in Georgia, $4,000 to $31,000.

The weak housing market has kept Freddie from selling at prices that would help it recoup all its losses. On average, the recovery rate has been approximately 60%, said Brad German, a spokesman for Freddie. Clearly there are few winners in this nightmarish housing market. No doubt there’s a better way: Freddie and Fannie need to be part of the solution. The companies could sell their properties to governments or a land trust, which could then turn them into neighborhood parks or urban gardens or some form of open space. Not every piece will work.

Location, location, location
The Trust for Public Land prefers homes it is looking at to sit in a neighborhood that does not already have a park or green space. However, if the foreclosed parcel is located adjacent to an existing park, it could be added into it. Finding a willing government, church, school or organization to maintain the open space is also important. Efforts to turn foreclosures into green space could prove economically beneficial, helping reduce the nation’s oversupply of homes. In turn, this could support and possibly raise home prices.

In Ohio’s Cuyahoga County, home to the rust-belt city of Cleveland, momentum has increased to ease the area’s rampant foreclosures through a greener approach. In April the county of about 1.3 million launched a land bank, an independent government corporation with the power to acquire tax-foreclosed properties or buy up discounted structures from banks or loan services. The agency is a variation on a handful of land banks that have formed nationwide — the first of which emerged in the 1970s in St. Louis, where residents’ flocking to the suburbs left an inventory of empty homes and buildings.

Unlike land banks of the past, Cuyahoga’s agency appears to have teeth. Not only can the land bank pick up vacant property, but it can also acquire homes, buildings, and other structures. The county apparently has received an outpouring of requests from a public that envisions greenhouses, parks, trails, and community gardens, in hopes of redefining neighborhoods left hollow by subprime lending and mortgage foreclosures. But not every parcel or property should be demolished and turned into wide-open spaces. Affordable housing is still in demand, and many communities dealing with record foreclosures would probably benefit more from attracting new industries and more businesses. Local and state governments dealing with budget shortfalls would probably rather see new homes or a new office park on their tax rolls, leading to increased government revenues from property taxes. State governments face one of the worst budget seasons in years. Between now and 2012, states must still close budget gaps totaling about $127 billion, according to a survey by the National Association of State Budget Officers. If market demand for homes just isn’t there and the location is right, communities could find even more value in greener spaces. “It suddenly becomes an asset for the community rather than a liability,” says Frank Alexander, a professor at Emory University Law School who has helped form land banks in Atlanta and Michigan’s Genesee County.

The green space effect
In 2007, Philadelphia saw an $18.1 million windfall in property taxes because property values rose in certain residential areas near parks, according to a 2008 study by The Trust for Public Land. What’s more, parks attract tourists. Philadelphia collected $5.2 million worth of sales tax from tourism spending by out-of-towners who visited the city primarily for its parks, according to the report. If anything, open spaces might just add to life’s simple pleasures. A separate survey by The Trust for Public Land has found that the economic downturn has occasioned more visitors to free parks and playgrounds, while admissions to paid events, like professional sports, have gone down. In a 2009 poll, 38% of adults with children under 6 years old said they’ve made greater use of parks.

John Perry Barlow: Internet has broken political system
by Gautham Nagesh / 06/03/10

“The political system is broken partly because of Internet,” Barlow said. “It’s made it impossible to govern anything the size of the nation-state. We’re going back to the city-state. The nation-state is ungovernably information-rich.” Speaking at Personal Democracy Forum in New York on Thursday, Barlow said there is too much going on at every level in Washington, D.C., for the government to effectively handle everything on its plate. Instead, he advocated citizens organizing around the issues most important to them.

Barlow also said that President Barack Obama’s election, driven largely by small donations, has fundamentally changed American politics. He said a similar bottom-up structure is needed for governing as well. “It’s not the second coming, everything won’t get better overnight, but that made it possible to see a future where it wasn’t simply a matter of money to define who won these things,” Barlow said. “The government could finally start belonging to people eventually.”

The former Grateful Dead songwriter said those disppointed in Obama are disregarding the extent to which the political system is broken. He blamed the Beltway establishment, which he said is loathe to give up any accumulated influence. “There is a circle of fat around the Beltway that is incredibly thick” Barlow said. “We can no longer try to run this country from the center. We’ve got to run it, just like the Internet, from the edges.”

A longtime advocate of individual’s rights online, Barlow also had some harsh words for the world’s leading search firm. “Google’s capacity to control human thought makes the Catholic church jealous, I bet,” Barlow said. “They wish they’d thought of it.” Despite his concerns, Barlow remains optimistic about the Internet’s ablitity as a force for good in politics, describing himself as a techno-utopian. “There are lots of battles to be fought, we can’t give them up,” Barlow said. “You folks in this room have the capacity to be some of the greatest ancestors anybody ever had.”




(Ricardo Arduengo/AP)



“EIS is exclusively operating for and on behalf of earthquake survivors, using local languages, French and Creole. The service is free and global. People in Haiti and families and friends around the world can register via a simple text message. Survivors will receive critical news and information direct to their mobiles”












Images of this week’s massive earthquake in Haiti are now flowing out of the country as aid workers and journalists flow in. What we have seen so far confirms the obvious: devastation is massive and widespread. Buildings collapsed. Homes destroyed. A country once inching back from the abyss has been thrown violently back. The photos above, courtesy of GeoEye and Google, show parts of Port-au-Prince before and after the quake. The white building in the bottom frame is the presidential palace, cracked along its axis. This morning, Google added GeoEye’s new imagery to Google Earth. It is available here. We’ve embedded it below. Google Earth Library also has a good collection of data and images from Haiti. Additionally, Google has launched a dynamic spreadsheet, called the “Haiti Situation Tracking Form” that allows people to post messages looking for loved ones and other updates.



Hundreds of web technicians, spurred into action by Haiti’s earthquake one week ago, have developed new web-based tools and services to help the relief effort. Volunteers in the US built and refined software for tracking missing people, mapping the disaster areas and enabling urgent text messaging. Tim Schwartz, a web programmer in San Diego, California, said that he feared that due to so many social-networking sites, crucial information about Haitian earthquake victims would “go everywhere on the internet [but] it would be very hard to actually find people”.

Acting on his concern, Schwartz and 10 other web developers built, an online lost-and-found site to help Haitians in and out of the country to locate missing relatives. The database, which anyone can update, was online less than 24 hours after the earthquake struck, with more than 6,000 entries due to a built-in “scraper” that gathered data from emergency relief organisations working at the site of the earthquake in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the US federal emergency management agency [Fema], put the systems to use and two days later, Google, the US search engine giant, created PersonFinder, which consolidated all the information from various person-finding sites. Christopher Csikszentmihalyi, the director of media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said PersonFinder, which can be embedded in any website and thus far has more than 32,000 records, “greatly increases the chances that Haitians in Haiti and abroad will be able to find each other”.

Dispatching rescuers
Another volunteer project forged in the earthquake’s aftermath was a mobile phone text-messaging system that helps relief groups dispatch rescuers, food and water. Patrick Meier, the director of Crisis Mapping and Strategic Partnerships at Ushahidi, an online crisis-reporting platform, told Al Jazeera such tools allow near real-time disaster response. “One of the most recent developments in that effort has been the free text messages [they are usually in Creole but in 10 minutes we get them translated into English] … if anyone inside Haiti texts 4636, we get that information in near real time and can [then] map it [and get the information to organisations that need it],” he said. “We have had a number of success stories. One of the very first was a report that went up through Ushahidi about an orphanage that was desperately running out of water … soon after we had someone report they had dispatched 20 litres of water to the orphanage.” In another collaborative effort, volunteers from online OpenStreetMap “crisis mapping” project provide up-to-the-minute data, such as the location of new field hospitals and collapsed bridges.

online tool to Haitian disaster relief effort
BY Monica Hesse / January 16, 2010

Patrick Meier learned about the earthquakes at 7 p.m. Tuesday while he was watching the news in Boston. By 7:20, he’d contacted a colleague in Atlanta. By 7:40, the two were mobilizing an online tool created by a Kenyan lawyer in South Africa. By 8, they were gathering intelligence from everyplace, in a global effort to crowd-source assistance for Haiti. The site is, and it allows users to submit eyewitness accounts or other relevant information for disaster zones via e-mail, text or Twitter — and then visualize the frequency of these events on a map. By Friday, Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, had received nearly 33,000 unique visitors, and several hundred personal reports that mainstream news organizations might not hear about. “Chantal Landrin is stuck under the rubble at a house in Turjo!” one user submitted via Twitter. “Please help me find my family in Haiti,” begins another poster. The majority of Ushahidi’s posts are from people — many from the United States — hoping to find information about missing relatives. “Route 9 is access point into [Port-au-Prince] but still precarious,” writes another, who has traveled the road.

Taken individually, these bits of data might not be terribly useful. The goal is that by aggregating the incidents in a visual format, people and organizations using the site will be able to see patterns of destruction, to determine where services should be concentrated. A red dot on the map, for example, signifies that looting is happening near a town called Pétionville; another shows that Hotel Villa Creole has become a site of medical triage. The practice is known as crisis mapping, a newer field of disaster analysis using geography-based data sets, employed by organizations like Ushahidi and Arlington-based GeoCommons. Although individuals have used Twitter and Facebook to share anecdotes for a few years — notably, during 2009’s contested Iranian elections — crisis mapping brings many data points together, making meaning out of randomness and spreading information about areas lacking well-developed records. “We’re providing a repository for all kinds of organizations,” says Meier, who in addition to working as Ushahidi’s director of strategic operations also founded the International Network of Crisis Mappers.

Ushahidi was originally founded in 2008 to map reports of violence in post-election Kenya. Ory Okolloh, a lawyer, had been trying to keep track of these incidents via her personal blog, “but I got swamped by how much information was coming in,” Okolloh says, “and I wanted to have a larger context of what was happening.” She appealed to the blogosphere for help, and soon had a site that allowed the entire Kenyan population to catalogue the injustices and atrocities they were witnessing — a real-time encyclopedia of unrest. Since then, the Ushahidi platform has been employed in many smaller projects, from monitoring elections in India to tracking medicine in various African countries. “Stop the Stock-outs,” as the medical project was known, involved volunteers swarming pharmacies to check the availability of common drugs and text their findings to be displayed on a map. In Kenya alone, more than 100 health centers were revealed to be operating without necessary medication, according to reports. The Kenyan government later allocated more funds for medication.

In Haiti, Meier says, it’s too early to tell what impact Ushahidi might have on relief efforts. Some of the rescue workers for whom Ushahidi was intended are currently too besieged by the chaos of the situation to attempt incorporating it into their work: “Our colleagues are not feeding information into crowdsourcing platforms for now,” writes Florian Westphal of the International Committee of the Red Cross via e-mail. “I don’t think they have the time.” Crisis mappers hope that their analytics will gain greater use in coming days, as rescue workers attempt to navigate the changed landscape. “Being one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti doesn’t have the infrastructure that a more developed country would have,” such as extensive Global Positioning System equipment that would aid in mapping the terrain, says Andrew Turner, chief technology officer of GeoCommons, which has also been producing Haiti-related maps. “Now you have all of these people needing to know how to get from here to there. . . . You need to know where the triage centers are, and the food and water. An old map would be irrelevant with road closings.”

The crowd-sourcing represents what Meier sees as the future of crisis response. “We’re going to need to collaborate, we’re going to need to share data,” he says. “The best way to provide humanitarian response is to be able to provide platforms” and tools that allow people to share on-the-ground information quickly. On Ushahidi, someone posts that the National Cathedral has collapsed, and the map gets another tiny dot of red.




The first reports are now emerging from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams who were already working on medical projects Haiti. They are treating hundreds of people injured in the quake and have been setting up clinics in tents to replace their own damaged medical facilities.

The Martissant health center in a poor area of Port-au-Prince had to be evacuated after the earthquake because it was damaged and unstable. The patients are now in tents in the grounds and the medical staff have been dealing with a flow of casualties from the town. They have already treated between 300 and 350 people, mainly for trauma injuries and fractures. Among them are 50 people suffering from burns—some of them severe—many of them caused by domestic gas containers exploding in collapsing buidings. At the Pacot rehabilitation center another 300 to 400 people have been treated. In one of MSF’s adminstrative offices in Petionville, another part of Port-au-Prince, a tent clinic there has seen at least 200 injured people. More are getting assistance at what was the Solidarite maternity hospital, which was seriously damaged.

One of MSF’s senior staff, Stefano Zannini, was out for most of the night, trying to assess the needs in the city and looking at the state of the medical facilities. “The situation is chaotic,” he said. “I visited five medical centers, including a major hospital, and most of them were not functioning. Many are damaged and I saw a distressing number of dead bodies. Some parts of the city are without electricity and people have gathered outside, lighting fires in the street and trying to help and comfort each other. When they saw that I was from MSF they were asking for help, particularly to treat their wounded. There was strong solidarity among people in the streets.” Another MSF coordinator there, Hans van Dillen, confirmed that Port-au-Prince was quite unable to cope with the scale of the disaster. “There are hunderds of thousands of people who are sleeping in the streets because they are homeless,” said van Dillen. “We see open fractures, head injuries. The problem is that we can not forward people to proper surgery at this stage.”

So many of the city’s medical facilities have been damaged, healthcare is severely disrupted at precisely the moment when medical needs are high. MSF is also working to get more staff into the country. Around 70 more staff are expected to arrive in the coming days. MSF is sending out a 100-bed hospital with an inflatable surgical unit, consisting of two operating theaters and seven hospitalization tents. Nephrologists will be sent as part of the team in order to deal with the affects of crush injuries. However, transport links are difficult and it is not yet clear whether supplies and medical staff will have to go in through neighboring Dominican Republic. MSF is also concerned about the safety of some of its own staff. There are 800 of them and not all have yet been accounted for because of the poor communications and general disruption.

Doctors Without Borders Cargo Plane With Full Hospital and Staff Blocked From Landing in Port-au-Prince / 17 January 2009

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges that its cargo planes carrying essential medical and surgical material be allowed to land in Port-au-Prince in order to treat thousands of wounded waiting for vital surgical operations. Priority must be given immediately to planes carrying lifesaving equipment and medical personnel.

Despite guarantees, given by the United Nations and the US Defense Department, an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, and was re-routed to Samana, in Dominican Republic. All material from the cargo is now being sent by truck from Samana, but this has added a 24-hour delay for the arrival of the hospital.

A second MSF plane is currently on its way and scheduled to land today in Port- au-Prince at around 10 am local time with additional lifesaving medical material and the rest of the equipment for the hospital. If this plane is also rerouted then the installation of the hospital will be further delayed, in a situation where thousands of wounded are still in need of life saving treatment.

The inflatable hospital includes 2 operating theaters, an intensive care unit, 100-bed hospitalization capacity, an emergency room and all the necessary equipment needed for sterilizing material. MSF teams are currently working around the clock in 5 different hospitals in Port-au-Prince, but only 2 operating theaters are fully functional, while a third operating theater has been improvised for minor surgery due to the massive influx of wounded and lack of functional referral structures.



“NetHope members who have been active in our relief efforts firmly believe that NGOs on the ground require a lightweight “NetHope ICT Kit” they can carry in their baggage to provide instant communications from Day 1 onward. This kit must have the following features:”


IT Lends a Helping Hand: interview with NetHope’s Edward Granger-Happ / 2005-01-28

How to help the IT relief effort : “Donate laptops, desktops, network equipment and other technology. Donate bandwidth, especially satellite transponder space. Serve as a volunteer, and encourage your staff to do the same.”

The relief workers toiling in the tsunami-battered nations of southern Asia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia don’t just need money; they need IT support. Like all professionals, their effectiveness and productivity can be amplified by IT—only in their case it means saving more lives and restoring communities more quickly. But field workers for organizations such as Save the Children, Oxfam, and CARE must do their work in nightmarish conditions, often without electricity, phone lines and the human basics. Edward Granger-Happ, the chairman of the board and a founder of NetHope, Inc., is a CIO on the front lines of the tsunami relief effort. NetHope is an organization made up of IT executives from 15 non-government relief organizations who have banded together for cooperative effort rather than competitive advantage. NetHope members share information and know-how, and work together with corporate partners such as Cisco Systems, IBM and Microsoft to develop, share and supply equipment, software and communications services for their members’ relief workers.

Granger-Happ doubles as the chief technology officer of Save the Children, a Westport, Conn.-based charity and relief organization and a NetHope member. He left behind a 24-year career in the private sector, first as an executive with First Boston, Lotus, Chase and Data Broadcasting Corp., then as senior partner and founder of a management consulting firm, to join Save the Children about four years ago.

CIO Insight executive editor Allan E. Alter spoke with Granger-Happ about NetHope’s founding and mission, its work in tsunami relief, and how CIOs and other IT managers and professionals can help NetHope provide technical support.

Q. What is NetHope?
A. My 30-second description is that we’re a group of the largest international non-profits who have banded together to bring ICT – information and communication technology – out to the most challenged areas of the world in which we work. The members are 15 of the largest international non-profits, representing a collective $3.5 billion relief and long term development aid. NetHope is in Sunnyvale, Calif., because that’s where our executive director and finance director are. The members of the board come from throughout the U.S. and the U.K.

Q. What is its mission?
A. To make a difference in the world at the point where our members’ programs touch children and families. The analogy for the for-profit world is where the products meet the customers. Our primary focus is the field worker who is sometimes hours or miles away from even the central field office in the country, administering relief programs like those in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, as well as long-term development, HIV, education, economic opportunity, and conservation-type work.

Q. Why was NetHope started?
A. It started with a white paper, called “Wiring the Virtual Village,” I wrote during my first nine months at Save the Children and presented to Cisco Systems in March 2001. Essentially, it said if we band together as a group of non-profits, we can solve our communication and technology infrastructure problems faster and cheaper than if we continue to try to do it on our own. We all have the same IT issues: in the U.S and Europe IT infrastructure is taken for granted, but in the areas we work we can’t even take electricity for granted. My compelling hypothesis No. 2 is that if we band together to solve these problems, we would be much more attractive to corporate technology partners. A technology company that is interested in philanthropic work could benefit 15 non-profits if it contributed technology, money or people through NetHope, not just one. They would leverage their gifts and time much more than with one-off grants to individual non-profits. It’s also lower risk, because if one or two non-profits have difficulty implementing a grant (always a big concern for corporate partners), the other 12 or 13 who had success can help the other two come up to speed. I spent the first 24 years of my career in the for-profit world, and I was very encouraged by the openness and willingness of non-profits to share internal information and cooperate.

In early April 2001, I got a call from Cisco, when they were launching their Cisco Fellow program. Right after the bubble burst, companies like Cisco had a significant economic downturn. One expense-neutral alternative they found to downsizing was to give managers the option of working with a non-profit, and they would pay for a portion of the expenses. Financially, you come out better if you do this than if you lay off employees; otherwise, you’d have to pay severance and unemployment, and then hire a recruiter when you wanted to fill the position again at the end of the downturn. Two thirds of Cisco Fellows, however, return as an employee. They asked if we’d be interested in that, and I said absolutely. We hired the first Cisco Fellow in June 2001. That was Dipak Basu, and he’s been the executive director of NetHope for its first three years. Dipak gets the credit for taking this vision of a cooperative among non-profits and making it happen. I was really just the idea person.

By the way, when people returned to Cisco after doing this fellowship program, they all said it was critical to their development as leaders. So now Cisco employees have the option of doing this for several months. It’s become strategic for them.

Q. What is NetHope doing now to help the tsunami victims?
A. The key thing NetHope is doing is a project that began a year ago with some technology that had been developed by some Cisco engineers in North Carolina working with Inmarsat in London as a response to the Sept. 11 emergency, where communications and networking was knocked out in New York City. They came up with some off-the-shelf components they put together in a single box to provide what I call a “network-in-a-box.” In relief situations you want to establish voice and data communications in 72 hours or less. In the initial stages of disaster relief, the first relief workers are highly mobile; they are doing situation assessments, determining what the key needs are and marshaling the resources and the equipment that’s necessary to fulfill these needs. You need to have voice and data communications to make that happen. So we saw that network-in-a-box as a potential “net relief kit” (NRK). The kit, which is built by Cisco and now in its second generation, is the size of a weekender suitcase. It’s meant to be out in a field location; it’s ruggedized, runs off a car battery, and is cooled by multiple fans. It can support up to 50 laptops and four or more wireless telephones. It gives us a box with a handle that people flying to the disaster area can bring with them. NetHope has been the driving force behind developing that project, and Cisco has donated the engineering time and expertise to put the box together.

We had done two lab tests of the NRK and were scheduling field tests in Africa for this quarter when the tsunami hit. Our emergency people had reports about the problem within hours. Save the Children’s field office at Banda Aceh was hit and our field office people were lost; all but two were later accounted for. We also lost ten midwives with a community partner. Many of the NetHope managers, like Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, Save the Children and others, who are responding to this emergency in Indonesia and Sri Lanka and to a lesser extent in Myanmar and India, said we need to take this NRK and get it into the field. We said this emergency will become our trial. It’s not the typical way you build and do a trial, but if there’s anything we’ve learned in IT it’s that speed is essential in product development.

The way emergency response works, you get initial response people who try to get in there as soon as possible, determine the situation and what the needs are, and the people in headquarters try to martial the resources and goods—locally at first, so there’s no shipping, but longer-term usually from the U.S. and other sources. This first phase is highly individual and highly mobile. These initial response people took satellite phones, thanks to an agreement we had already worked out with Iridium. We had daily conference calls among members of NetHope during the first phase, and shared our technology assessment information and discussed who can bring what technologies to bear. That information sharing and consulting among members is of enormous value to organizations like Save the Children; we don’t have a large IT staff, and it feels especially small when we’re operating in triage and crisis mode. That happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now it’s happening in Indonesia.

The second phase in emergency response involves groups of people, but they’re also highly mobile and need to talk with one another. We’re now starting the second phase, and that’s when the NRK will be used. Many of these groups will operate in tent communities; when we get in with the NRK, we connect their laptops. The kit is just going over now. Our director of networks will be the point person for the first kit. He’s landed in Jakarta, and he’ll be gathering the equipment he needs and will be going to Banda Aceh in the next few days.

Q. How many NRKs will be going out?
A. We’ve asked for ten. That’s the preliminary request, and we haven’t heard back yet what’s possible. That’s the challenge. They are still custom-made; it’s the dedication of the engineers at Cisco in North Carolina that’s putting them together. We’re going to try to share the NRKs as much as possible, but there are bandwidth issues there. In some places we can only get a 64K connections, and there’s only so much bandwidth you can share. Bandwidth is always an issue. Not until the third phase do we establish a more permanent office, and we will outfit that office with a VSAT or other connections, LANs and desktop PCs. When you get to the third phase the NRK is irrelevant because you get a VSAT in a more permanent building. The final way NetHope will be of value will be taking its learning and experiences and sharing it with non-members and developing countries. That’s part of the philanthropic value of what NetHope is doing: Just as we benefit from our knowledge-sharing experiences, we want to turn around and open that to others.

Q. How will that knowledge-sharing be done?
A. NetHope members actually use IBM Lotus Domino QuickPlace, a donation IBM Lotus made to Save the Children. We have a library of posted documents and information, a discussion area, and folders for each of the emergencies and projects on which we’re working. It’s a fully searchable and indexed knowledge base of information, and we have close to four years of information in it now. And here’s the tie-back to how open non-profits are to sharing information: If the head of network engineering at Oxfam has discussions with three satellite phone providers in the European Union, he’ll summarize it and post it for the rest of the members. We don’t all have to talk to those three EU phone providers.

Q. What will you be doing in the next two to eight weeks to help the tsunami victims?
A. I think phase 2 will last at least 90 days, maybe longer. With the extent of the damage we’re seeing in the Banda Aceh area, it may take significantly longer before we can establish a field office that has electricity and communications. Again, NetHope is focused on that relief worker, the relief worker who is doing the food distributions and handling medical programs, crisis intervention in terms of psychological counseling for families and kids, and relocation services. Our job is to make that field workers’ job as easy as possible, by giving him communications and by minimizing the amount of paperwork he needs to do. If you remember what it was like to work without e-mail and a computer, and think about how much easier it is now to do that much more, we want to give the same advantages to the field worker. We’re bringing in laptops, LANs, wireless telephones, satellite telephones, portable satellite dishes, larger satellite dishes for the longer term, and the NRK is the network infrastructure that sits in the middle of that.

Communications is critical for security. In Iraq, communication is essential to make sure people are safe and accounted for. These areas we are going into now for tsunami relief have tenuous situations; there’s a civil war and insurrections going on. Security is an issue there as well. It used to be, before the UN was bombed in Baghdad, that non-profits were immune. We could go in as politically and religiously neutral and meet dire needs wherever we went. That whole world changed with the UN bombing in Baghdad; we’re no longer immune, we’re now one of the targets. There have been kidnappings and bombings. It’s a different world for non-profits. Now we have to spend time on security planning that we didn’t have to do before. And that requires better technology.

Q. What can IT executives do to help the tsunami victims and NetHope?
A. To the degree they have bandwidth or technology they can share, that is of significant interest to us. Many laptops and desktop PCs are on two-year leases; CIOs ought to take them as they come off lease and donate them to non-profits, and get the tax write-off if you do the buy-out. It’s a win-win. Check with your accounting department first, of course. We have a third-party “wiping service” to delete any data from the donated machines.

Q. How can companies share bandwidth?
A. Many companies have paid for large amounts of satellite transponder space; it’s the rented space on the bird itself. To the extent they have transponder space on satellites that cover India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, they can help. We still have to put satellite communications equipment on the ground, but the most expensive part is often the recurring transponder space rent. We’ve talked with some corporations about sharing network infrastructure, but global companies are in the major cities and that’s not where we typically are. But they will have satellite transponder space. Many companies rent space for peak periods. When it’s not peak time, there ought to be ways to donate transponder space.

There’s another way CIOs could help, and that is to volunteer to act as advisers to the non-profit IT directors, from NetHope to the individual IT directors at the non-profits. Save the Children spends less than 1.5 percent of revenue on IT, and our headquarters IT department is 23 people for a 3,200-person organization in 40 countries. So we’re excellent at taking slim resources and stretching them to do incredible things. But when you layer on top of it a disaster of this magnitude, where you have to turn your attention to those things, getting help and advice on more efficient ways to do the day-to-day blocking and tackling, or to even come and volunteer to fill in to do those things, would be very valuable. We’re good at stretching things thin to run a normal operation, but add a disaster like this and it becomes an abnormal operation. We have daily stand-up meetings to look at everyone’s top three things they are doing that impacts their response. There could be lots of other things that don’t happen. Having people who are experts at crisis management and in applying medical triage to business situation would be invaluable to non-profits.

Q. What kinds of people from an IT staff would you want as volunteers?
A. It could be as basic as help-desk people who can configure PC laptops before they go out in the field. It could be network engineers who can run our data centers. At senior-management level, advisers on how to apply triage and crisis management to most efficiently manage hour-to-hour with our limited resources. To help, go to There’s a link to contact us at Or call us at (408) 525-2451 or e-mail us at info [at] Those calls and e-mails will get funneled to Molly Tschang, our current executive director, who will take it from there. If anyone is interested in particular in Save the Children, contact me by email at ehapp [at] savechildren [dot] org rather than call.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A. NetHope doesn’t happen without our corporate partners, especially Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Immarsat and Eutelsat. Microsoft and Cisco have worked with us from day one when this tragedy struck, asking us how they can help. Cisco has responded by speeding up the Net Relief Kit, and employees at both organizations are donating to Save the Children. They’ve been incredible partners. Beyond business partners, these are organizations that really care about making a difference, and they have taken a keen interest in having NetHope succeed.

And just two human-interest points: This is my third career. I worked on Wall Street for the first 14 years of my career, with First Boston, Chase, Lotus and Data Broadcasting Corp. Then I ran my own management consulting business in IT and balanced scorecard work for ten years before joining Save the Children. Which leads me to my second point: I could double my income at any corporate firm, but what’s more important to me at this point in my career is having the ability to make an impact every day in what I do. When we get IT right, more kids get fed, more kids get inoculated, and more kids get educated and taught. The value of that is immeasurable. So my whole model has turned from pursuit of success to pursuit of significance.

Edward Granger-Happ
email : ehapp [@] savethechildren [dot] org / ehapp [at] hpmd [dot] com





Take a look at the designs for what could someday be the world’s cheapest PC, and you may start to wish you were a third-grade child in Burundi.
BY Andy Greenberg / 12.22.09

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte’s non-profit effort aimed at putting cheap educational laptops into the hands of developing world schoolchildren, is working on an upgrade to its so-called XO computer, once known as the “hundred-dollar laptop.” That revamped machine, known as the XO-3 and targeted for release in 2012, is still more of a pipe dream than a product. But early designs for the PC reveal a minimalist slate of touch-powered electronics that drops practically every feature of a traditional computer except its 8.5-by-11-inch screen, a scheme that would shed all of the first XO’s child-like clunkiness without losing its simple accessibility. “I wanted to bring the One Laptop Per Child identity to life in this new form,” says Yves Behar, founder of FuseProject, which designed the both the original and the XO-3. “That meant taking the visual complexity away, bringing tactility and friendliness, touch and color.”

Behar says he hopes to shrink the frame around the XO-3’s display down to practically nothing, opting for a virtual keyboard instead of a physical one, and no buttons. The result, in his mock-ups, is a screen surrounded by only a thin green rubber gasket. “Nicholas [Negroponte] asked for something extremely simple and practically frameless,” he says. “The media or content on the computer will be the prime visual element.” In fact, that new form factor is just the beginning of OLPC’s monstrous ambitions: It aims to make its tablet PC highly durable, all plastic, waterproof, half the thickness of an iPhone and use less than a watt of power, despite an 8-gigaherz processor. The price: an unprecedented $75.

Many of OLPC’s goals, to be fair, are more imagination than road map. And Negroponte has a history of overpromising. The original XO never hit its original goal of $100, (it currently sells for $172) and another touch screen upgrade to the XO that Negroponte announced in May 2008 was quietly scrapped this year based on costs. But in this case, Negroponte’s plan has a twist: As OLPC assembles the components for its dream machine, it plans to open the architecture of the device to allow any other PC maker to take over the project. Negroponte is more interested in pressuring the industry to make cheaper, more education-focused PCs than he is in manufacturing any specific machine. “We don’t necessarily need to build it,” Negroponte told Forbes. “We just need to threaten to build it.”

Regardless of who puts their stamp on the ultra-cheap tablet, OLPC’s biggest task may be getting the various components in line. A typical fragile, glass LCD screen hardly seems a wise choice in the hands of young children, or in countries with unpredictable and scarce electricity. So OLPC hopes to incorporate plastic back-plane components, possibly from Mountain View, Calif.-based Plastic Logic, that would be far more durable. The tablet will also likely use ultra low-power screens from start-up Pixel Qi with both reflective and LCD capabilities, created by former Negroponte disciple Mary Lou Jepsen. If Behar’s design comes to fruition, the XO-3 will feature a camera on the back of the device and a finger-hold ring on the computer’s corner. That loop, a metal cable that runs from the device’s rim and is encased in the same rubber as the screen frame, can be used to steady the computer in the user’s hand or to let it hang at one’s side. Magnets in the loop could also be used to keep it tucked behind the machine, out of the way.

Those simple additions are the only departures from the tablet’s minimalist design: Ideally, the machine won’t even have a charging port. Behar says OLPC wants to use induction to wirelessly charge the battery through its rubber frame. “We wanted to remove all the scars that you typically see on a laptop from Lenovo or HP,” he says. While the tablet isn’t slated to appear until 2012, OLPC has other plans in the meantime. An incremental upgrade of the XO set for release in January will have several times the memory, storage and processing power of the current machine. The next upgrade, in 2011, will boost the machine’s performance again and replace its AMD chip with a lower-power processor from phone chip maker Marvell.

When it comes to his plans for the $75 dream tablet, however, Negroponte admits his track record of lofty promises doesn’t offer much assurance that this latest fantasy machine will appear. But he warns the computer industry not to underestimate OLPC. “Sure, if I were a commercial entity coming to you for investment, and I’d made the projections I had in the past, you wouldn’t invest again,” he says. “But we’re not a commercial operation. If we only achieve half of what we’re setting out to do, it could have very big consequences.”

Nicholas Negroponte
email : nicholas [at] [dot] edu

BY Robert Evans / 23 Dec 2009

“One Laptop Per Child is a charity run by Nicholas Negroponte. Their goal is to provide laptops to every child in the developing world. One of the ways they do this is by selling their ultra-cheap machines to Westerners for double the price. That way you get a laptop, and you get to buy a laptop for some kid in Uganda or Somalia. While the current versions of the OLPC are fairly unimpressive, the XO-3, Negroponte’s design for the 2012 OLPC, looks incredible.

Forbes reports that this new OLPC is going to be a totally stripped down, 8.5″-11” tablet PC. The only features of this tablet will be the touchscreen, and a little ring on the side to act as a hand-hold or to loop into a belt. The XO-3 will be simple and durable; it’s going to be made entirely of plastic will be waterproof. It should pack an 8 GHz processor, but will use less than a watt of power. Remember; this thing isn’t scheduled to hit until 2012.

The price is expected to be $75. Whether or not this device will ever launch, let alone at that price, remains to be seen. I really hope it does, though. One Laptop Per Child is an incredibly beneficial charity that allows poor children all around the world to connect to the Internet. It makes possible a level of communication and exposure to information that none of these children would otherwise have. Plus, the XO-3 is supposed to have a camera. That means Flickr will soon be populated with thousands of shots from OLPC owners in exotic locales all around the world. That alone is worth a donation or two.


Fast, Cheap and Sustainable:
Ex-Pentagon Geek Plots Disaster Relief 2.0
BY Nathan Hodge / October 16, 2008

Linton Wells used to be one of the Pentagon geeks-in-chief — a prime mover in the military’s embrace of information technology. Now, he wants to encourage the Defense Deparment to network with relief agencies, civic organizations and the private sector in order to reboot disaster recovery. The goal of the tech-heavy effort is not only to avoid a Hurricane Katrina repeat. It’s to get better at stabilizing failed states that could easily slip into radical hands. But first, the boys in uniform have to get over their traditional reluctance to cooperate with civilians.

Nation-building, perhaps by default, has become a core mission for the U.S. military. Last week, the Army unveiled its new stability operations manual. And this week, the Department of Defense is hosting a demonstration of some of the more innovative new tools for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.

The project is called STAR-TIDES (Sustainable Technologies, Accelerated Research-Transportable Infrastructures for Development and Emergency Support). The acronym may be long, but the concept is simple: it is supposed to pull together cheap and effective solutions for humanitarian emergencies or post-war reconstruction.

Among the items on display at the Pentagon demo: solar cooking panels; Solar Stik portable power generators (pictured); inflatable satellite antennas; and water purification systems. It’s an intriguing sight to see bureaucrats sip purified
Potomac River water in the Pentagon center court, or to watch a two-star general inspect a tree-hugger’s Hexayurt shelter.

The buzzwords here are “affordable solutions,” “sustainable support” or “capacity building” – all terms borrowed from the world of aid and development. STAR-TIDES is also part of a larger effort by Wells to spread the word these concepts within the Defense Department.

“We’re not an operating agency,” Wells said. “I’m coordinating this with a few colleagues on a more or less volunteer basis. If someone comes in and says, ‘coordinate the next Katrina,’ we’re not in a position to do that. We are in a position to try to perhaps help the decisionmakers to think ahead and maybe get some of these coalitions built so there’d be better planning for whole-of-government, civil society, and maybe different scenarios they might not otherwise think of.”

The current demo is set up for a few scenarios: disaster relief in Central America or the Western Pacific; stabilization and reconstruction in Afghanistan; and refugee support in sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the technology on display could also be used for “defense support to civil authorities” (think Hurricane Katrina).

A project like STAR-TIDES faces more than institutional resistance within the Pentagon; non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and aid groups are often wary of working with the military. Wells said he recognized the limitations.

“In many respects, the conflict-resolution NGOs are quite willing to work with the military, whereas the humanitarian assistance NGOs are more wary because their people are in the field and could be at risk,” he said. “If they are seen going in and out of military facilities or communicating routinely with the military, instead of being neutral parties in the crisis, one side or the other can attribute to them the motives of the U.S. military. So they actually see in some cases their people being at risk. … What we try to do is recognize their constraints, recognize their environment, in a social network, trust-building type of arrangement. Deliver something of value that’s useful to them and show how it’s advantageous for them to work with the U.S.”






Workers have also been preparing tents at Guantanamo Bay for Haitian migrants in case the earthquake spurs a mass migration. This is not a new role for the base: At any given moment, the facility temporarily holds small groups of migrants, mostly from Cuba. In the 1990s, Guantanamo housed tens of thousands of Haitian boat people until they could be sent home. About 100 tents, each capable of holding 10 people, have been erected. The U.S. has capacity to hold up to 13,000 at that site, which is on the opposite side of the base, separated by 2 1/2 miles of water, from the detention center for terrorism suspects. Blaisdell said he is considering additional places in case more space is needed.

At the prison, Friday’s deadline for the closure of the base prison was a nonevent. Behind walls of razor wire, officials say they will be on alert for protests by prisoners. But Army Col. Bruce Vargo, the guard force commander, said the reduced population and the decision to house nearly 75 percent of the men in communal settings has eased tensions. He does not expect significant trouble. The delay in closing the base has angered Guantanamo’s many critics, but attorneys for prisoners say most of their clients were always skeptical that they would be going home soon. Many of them now have regular access to the news and could read copies of Obama’s order posted around the camps. “When they saw how slow the review process became and the tiny trickle of men transferred from Guantanamo, they were realistic and saw it would be impossible to meet the Jan. 22 deadline,” said David Remes, a Washington attorney for 18 prisoners.

Navy Rear Adm. Thomas Copeman, commander of the task force that runs the detention center, views with pride the base’s role in trying to solve the humanitarian crisis. “The ability to conduct real-world humanitarian assistance and disaster relief … that’s more exhilarating at the moment then walking the block in the detention camp, not to say that walking the block is not an extremely important mission for the United States but probably not as gratifying as saving someone’s life.”

Why Did We Focus on Securing Haiti, Rather Than Helping Haitians?
Here are two possibilities, neither of them flattering.
BY Ben Ehrenreich / Jan. 21, 2010

By the weekend, it was clear that something perverse was going on in Haiti, something savage and bestial in its lack of concern for human life. I’m not talking about the earthquake, and certainly not about the so-called “looting,” which I prefer to think of as the autonomously organized distribution of unjustly hoarded goods. I’m talking about the U.S. relief effort.

For two days after the quake, despite almost unimaginable destruction, there were reasons to be optimistic. With a few notable exceptions—Pat Robertson and David Brooks among them—Americans reacted with extraordinary and unhesitating generosity of spirit and of purse. Port-au-Prince is not much farther from Washington, D.C., than, say, New Orleans, and the current president of the United States, unlike his predecessor, was quick to react to catastrophe. Taking advantage of “our unique capacity to project power around the world,” President Barack Obama pledged abundant aid and 10,000 troops. Troops? Port-au-Prince had been leveled by an earthquake, not a barbarian invasion, but, OK, troops. Maybe they could put down their rifles and, you know, carry stuff, make themselves useful. At least they could get there soon: The naval base at Guantanamo was barely 200 miles away.

The Cubans, at least, would show up quickly. It wasn’t until Friday, three days after the quake, that the “supercarrier” USS Carl Vinson, arrived—and promptly ran out of supplies. “We have communications, we have some command and control, but we don’t have much relief supplies to offer,” admitted Rear Adm. Ted Branch. So what were they doing there?

“Command and control” turned out to be the key words. The U.S. military did what the U.S. military does. Like a slow-witted, fearful giant, it built a wall around itself, commandeering the Port-au-Prince airport and constructing a mini-Green Zone. As thousands of tons of desperately needed food, water, and medical supplies piled up behind the airport fences—and thousands of corpses piled up outside them—Defense Secretary Robert Gates ruled out the possibility of using American aircraft to airdrop supplies: “An airdrop is simply going to lead to riots,” he said. The military’s first priority was to build a “structure for distribution” and “to provide security.” (Four days and many deaths later, the United States began airdropping aid.)

The TV networks and major papers gamely played along. Forget hunger, dehydration, gangrene, septicemia—the real concern was “the security situation,” the possibility of chaos, violence, looting. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of on-the-ground accounts from people who did not have to answer to editors described Haitians taking care of one another, digging through rubble with their bare hands, caring for injured loved ones—and strangers—in the absence of outside help. Even the evidence of “looting” documented something that looked more like mutual aid: The photograph that accompanied a Sunday New York Times article reporting “pockets of violence and anarchy” showed men standing atop the ruins of a store, tossing supplies to the gathered crowd.

The guiding assumption, though, was that Haitian society was on the very edge of dissolving into savagery. Suffering from “progress-resistant cultural influences” (that’s David Brooks finding a polite way to call black people primitive), Haitians were expected to devour one another and, like wounded dogs, to snap at the hands that fed them. As much as any logistical bottleneck, the mania for security slowed the distribution of aid.

Air-traffic control in the Haitian capital was outsourced to an Air Force base in Florida, which, not surprisingly, gave priority to its own pilots. While the military flew in troops and equipment, planes bearing supplies for the Red Cross, the World Food Program, and Doctors Without Borders were rerouted to Santo Domingo in neighboring Dominican Republic. Aid flights from Mexico, Russia, and France were refused permission to land. On Monday, the British Daily Telegraph reported, the French minister in charge of humanitarian aid admitted he had been involved in a “scuffle” with a U.S. commander in the airport’s control tower. According to the Telegraph, it took the intervention of the United Nations for the United States to agree to prioritize humanitarian flights over military deliveries.

Meanwhile, much of the aid that was arriving remained at the airport. Haitians watched American helicopters fly over the capital, commanding and controlling, but no aid at all was being distributed in most of the city. On Tuesday, a doctor at a field hospital within site of the runways complained that five to 10 patients were dying each day for lack of the most basic medical necessities. “We can look at the supplies sitting there,” Alphonse Edward told Britain’s Channel 4 News.

The much-feared descent into anarchy stubbornly refused to materialize. “It is calm at this time,” Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command, admitted to the AP on Monday. “Those who live and work here … tell me that the level of violence that we see right now is below pre-earthquake levels.” He announced that four—four, in a city of more than 2 million—aid-distribution points had been set up on the sixth day of the crisis.

So what happened? Why the mad rush to command and control, with all its ultimately murderous consequences? Why the paranoid focus on security above saving lives? Clearly, President Obama failed to learn one of the basic lessons taught by Hurricane Katrina: You can’t solve a humanitarian problem by throwing guns at it. Before the president had finished insisting that “my national security team understands that I will not put up with any excuses,” Haiti’s fate was sealed. National security teams prioritize national security, an amorphous and expensive notion that has little to do with keeping Haitian citizens alive.

This leaves the more disturbing question of why the Obama administration chose to respond as if they were there to confront an insurgency, rather than to clear rubble and distribute antibiotics and MREs. The beginning of an answer can be found in what Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell, calls “elite panic”—the conviction of the powerful that their own Hobbesian corporate ethic is innate in all of us, that in the absence of centralized authority, only cannibalism can reign.

But the danger of hunger-crazed mobs never came up after the 2004 Pacific tsunami, and no one mentions security when tornados and floods wipe out swaths of the American Midwest. This suggests two possibilities, neither of them flattering. The first is that the administration had strategic reasons for sending 10,000 troops that had little to do with disaster relief. This is the explanation favored by the Latin American left and, given the United States’ history of invasion and occupation in Haiti (and in the Dominican Republic and Cuba and Nicaragua and Grenada and Panama), it is difficult to dismiss. Only time will tell what “reconstruction” means.

Another answer lies closer to home. New Orleans and Port-au-Prince have one obvious thing in common: The majority of both cities’ residents are black and poor. White people who are not poor have been known, when confronted with black people who are, to start locking their car doors and muttering about their security. It doesn’t matter what color our president is. Even when it is ostensibly doing good, the U.S. government can be racist, and, in an entirely civil and bureaucratic fashion, savagely cruel.


Haiti escaped prisoners chased out of notorious slum Cité Soleil
Ed Pilkington and Tom Phillips, in Cité Soleil / 20 January 2010

When the 3,000 inmates of the central prison in Port-au-Prince unexpectedly gained their freedom, courtesy of the earthquake, everybody knew where they would be headed: Cité Soleil, the poorest area of this poorest city, in whose maze of streets they could vanish.

But the fugitives hadn’t counted on one thing: the determination of Cité Soleil’s people not to let them back. “We’ve got so many huge problems because of the earthquake, we have so little food, water and medicines, we can’t deal with another huge problem,” said Caries Rubens, 26, one of the area’s 300,000 people.

Several of the escapers had been gang leaders in the slum neighbourhood, ensnaring and terrorising the people with drugs and guns. Nobody wanted to see them regain their hold. When news that the earthquake had granted the prisoners early parole reached Cité Soleil, a committee was set up, then vigilante security teams. Prisoners spotted re-entering the area were chased and run out of town. Those who were caught came to a more definitive end. Bled, one of the most notorious gang leaders whose moniker derives from what happened to his many murder and kidnapping victims, was welcomed back by a lynch mob wielding machetes.

That the people of this downtrodden place have shown a determination to stand up to gang leaders is a sign of the change that has taken root in Cité Soleil. Between 2002 and 2006 the area was almost entirely in the grip of the gangs, but in the last three years, partly through the intervention of UN peacekeepers and partly through communal self-help, the gangs’ power has waned and the people’s confidence has grown.

Rubens is a member of a local charity that tries to help the young find an alternative path to adulthood through education rather than violence and drugs. “It’s very difficult to ask a young kid to stay out of the gangs in Cité Soleil,” said Fedora Camille Chevry, who set up the charity Fondation Roussan Camille. “To do that there has to be hope and in Cité Soleil there is so little hope. By providing them with a way of opening up their minds, we try and give them that hope.”

If the foundation is trying to work to shore up the community from within, from the outside UN forces are keeping a close eye on Cité Soleil for fear that the prison breakout might prompt a slide back into the dark past. Their commanding officer has vowed to “intensify” operations to recapture the escapees.

General Florianao Peixoto said his troops had drawn up a list of targets and had already begun making arrests. “We are going to have to carry out more intensive activities to get these elements back where they belong. The hypothesis is that these leaders will regroup to carry out collective operations. But I have a military force that is far superior to that of any gang.”

“We know the area and we have it under control,” said Captain Italo Monsores, a Brazilian marine, during a tour of Cité Soleil’s rubble-strewn streets. The threat, like in so much of this stricken city, is that the devastation will destroy the fragile gains of recent years. Cité Soleil is a chaotic jumble of concrete houses interspersed with corrugated iron shacks. Several of the structures have collapsed, including a school where the metal roof has fallen on to wooden desks stamped with the logo of the UN children’s agency Unicef.

The death toll here was probably lower than in other parts by dint of the houses being low-rise, but many people were wounded in an area with primitive medical services. We came across a woman whose left arm had been burnt to a blackened crust. She had been cooking when the earthquake happened, tipping a saucepan of boiling water over her. Her arm looked as though it were weeping and in risk of infection. Down the road a long line of women was queuing with buckets at a water tanker. There was scuffling and shouting at the front – unsurprisingly as Cité Soleil has been without drinking water for days. We were taken to see the central water tower, which had keeled over.

Food remains difficult to find. We passed a small shop selling balloons, brooms, salami, lollipops and other random items. The owner now sells his wares from behind a metal grille. “Times are hard,” he said. “People might be tempted to rob.” As Rubens puts it: “You want to know how we feel? We feel alone.” But there is grit and imagination here too. Up above the iron roofs, under the flight path of Black Hawk helicopters ferrying supplies, a kite made of plastic and paper flapped in the wind.

After the earthquake, how to rebuild Haiti from scratch
By Jeffrey D. Sachs / January 17, 2010

President Obama has declared that the United States will not forsake Haiti in its moment of agony. Honoring this commitment would be a first for Washington. To prevent a deepening spiral of death, the United States will have to do things differently than in the past. American relief and development institutions do not function properly, and to believe otherwise would be to condemn Haiti’s poor and dying to our own mythology.

In Haiti, we are facing not only a horrific natural disaster but the tectonics of nature, poverty and politics. Even before last week’s earthquake, roughly half of the nation’s 10 million inhabitants lived in destitution, in squalid housing built of adobe or masonry without reinforcements, perched precariously on hillsides. The country is still trying to recover from the hurricanes of 2008 as well as longtime social and political traumas. The government’s inability to cope has been obvious, but those of us who have been around Haiti for many years also know about the lofty international promises that follow each disaster — and how ineffectual the response has been each time.

In the past two decades, U.S. interventions have done much more harm than good to the Haitian economy. In the early 1990s, Washington thought it did Haiti a favor by imposing a crushing trade embargo to bring about democratization — specifically, the reinstatement of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The embargo destroyed Haiti’s fragile manufacturing industries. Then, true to America’s political swings, ideologues in the Bush administration spent years trying to oust Aristide, first by foisting a de facto and illegal aid freeze on international development agencies, and then by brazenly toppling Aristide and carrying him to the Central African Republic. Congress took a pass on reviewing these sordid events, pausing only to declare its love for the Haitian people.

Now it’s time to save Haitian lives by the millions, or watch a generation perish. A serious response will require a new approach. President Obama should recognize that the U.S. government alone lacks the means, attention span and true regard for Haiti that is needed to see this through past the most urgent phase. After the coming weeks, during which U.S. emergency airlift assistance is essential, the effort should be quickly internationalized, in an effective manner that acknowledges U.S. political realities and leverages the help that Washington will give.

Typically, a tragedy such as this is followed by international pledges of billions of dollars, but then only a slow trickle of help. The government of Haiti, overwhelmed far before this earthquake, is in no position to pester 20 or more complicated donor agencies to follow up on designing projects and disbursing funds. The recovery operation needs money in the bank — in a single, transparent, multidonor recovery fund for Haiti and the world to see. Haiti does not need a pledging session; it needs a bank account to fund its survival and reconstruction. The Inter-American Development Bank would be an excellent venue; it is well-run and highly regarded, already serves as Haiti’s largest development financier and could bring in donor partners from around the globe.

How would a Haiti Recovery Fund be organized? It should receive emergency outlays from the United States and other donors; organize a board that includes members appointed by Haitian President René Préval, the U.N. secretary general and donors; and empower a management team to formulate and execute plans agreed to by the Haitian government. Very soon, the first phase of recovery operations in Haiti will end. Tragically, tens or hundreds of thousands will have died under the rubble, with relief and equipment arriving too late. Now the race is on to save Haiti itself. Its capital, a city without reserves of food, water, power, shelter, hospitals, medicine and other vital supplies, faces the real possibilities of hunger, epidemics and civil unrest. And the rest of the country is like a body without a head. The port is shut, the government is overwhelmed, many U.N. peacekeepers have transferred to Port-au-Prince, and the normal operations of government, skimpy as they once were, have broken down entirely.

The recovery fund would focus first on restoring basic services needed for survival. For months to come, medical supplies from abroad should be stockpiled and then distributed in the capital and beyond. Makeshift surgical units and clinical facilities will be essential. Power plants on offshore barges will be needed for electricity until new plants can be constructed. The salaries of public workers — especially teachers, police officers, nurses, reconstruction workers and engineers — must be assured, despite an utter collapse of revenues. Haiti’s currency will need to be backed by international reserves so that the demand for public spending does not create harrowing inflation. The Haiti Recovery Fund, together with a quick-disbursing grant from the International Monetary Fund, should provide the needed reserves and budget financing.

Emergency relief should quickly and seamlessly transform into reconstruction and development. Indeed, if we stop at humanitarian relief alone, Haiti will be back in crisis soon enough, after the next disaster. The first step in this transition is food security: Haiti’s farmers will need seed and fertilizer within weeks if they are to grow food for a destitute country. The displaced urban population will need income support or food transfers to subsist. The World Food Program’s effective food-for-work projects can help feed workers recruited to rebuild roads and buildings.

After the extreme emergency period over the next few weeks, growing more food in Haiti will be far cheaper, more reliable and more sustainable than living on imported food aid. Supplying the farm inputs to Haiti will require more grants — as impoverished farmers have no capacity to buy seeds, fertilizer and small-scale equipment — as well as official aid to help deliver such materials to Haiti’s remote villages.

New shelters must not be makeshift units that would be destroyed by Haiti’s frequent floods, landslides and hurricanes. The country will need a revived and expanded construction industry to produce the brick, reinforced concrete and other vital materials. Private companies, domestic and international, should be contracted to set up operations. China is capable of quickly dismantling a factory, putting it in containers on ships and reconstructing it within weeks in a foreign location. Such efforts are needed immediately. (The asphalt for Liberia’s roads comes from a Chinese factory assembled this way in the capital, Monrovia.) The list of needs goes on; it was very long and urgent even before last week’s calamity.

The Haiti Recovery Fund should be constituted for five years — a suitable period to respond to such a challenge. Electoral politics in Haiti should be suspended for at least one year as well. This is no time for national elections; the people’s survival is the first purpose of politics. How much money would the Haiti Recovery Fund need? And where should it come from? Here is a rough estimate: Before the earthquake but after the hurricanes, I had calculated an urgent (and unmet) development financing need of $1.4 billion per year for Haiti, up from about $300 million currently. Basic urgent reconstruction costs will add perhaps another $5 billion to $10 billion over the next few years. One can imagine annual disbursements of $2 billion to $3 billion annually over the next five years.

Obama should seek an immediate appropriation of at least $1 billion this year and next for a Haiti Recovery Fund, and ask other countries and international agencies to fill in the rest, not with promises but with cash. The obvious way for Washington to cover this new funding is by introducing special taxes on Wall Street bonuses, utterly unjustified payments that will be announced in the next days. Haiti will suffer a quick death of hunger and disease unless we act, and the United States will suffer a slow and painful moral death unless we respond to the extreme distress of our neighbors, whom we have neglected for so long and, at times, even put in harm’s way.

BY Jeremy Scahill /

“We saw this type of Iraq-style disaster profiteering in New Orleans, and you can expect to see a lot more of this in Haiti over the coming days, weeks and months. Private security companies are seeing big dollar signs in Haiti thanks in no small part to the media hype about “looters.” After Katrina, the number of private security companies registered (and unregistered) multiplied overnight. Banks, wealthy individuals, the US government all hired private security. I even encountered Israeli mercenaries operating an armed checkpoint outside of an elite gated community in New Orleans. They worked for a company called Instinctive Shooting International. (That is not a joke).

Now, it is kicking into full gear in Haiti. The Orwellian-named mercenary trade group International Peace Operations Association didn’t waste much time in offering the “services” of its member companies to swoop down on Haiti for some old-fashioned “humanitarian assistance” in the form of disaster profiteering. Within hours of the massive earthquake in Haiti, the IPOA created a special webpage for prospective clients, saying: “In the wake of the tragic events in Haiti, a number of IPOA’s member companies are available and prepared to provide a wide variety of critical relief services to the earthquake’s victims.”

While some of the companies specialize in rapid housing construction, emergency relief shelters and transportation, others are private security companies that operate in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as Triple Canopy, the company that took over Blackwater’s massive State Department contract in Iraq. For years, Blackwater played a major role in IPOA until it left the group following the 2007 Nisour Square massacre.

In 2005, while still a leading member of IPOA, Blackwater’s owner Erik Prince deployed his forces in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Far from some sort of generous gift to the suffering people of the US gulf, Blackwater raked in some $70 million in Homeland Security contracts that began with a massive no-bid contract to provide protective services for FEMA. Blackwater billed US taxpayers $950 per man per day.

The current US program under which armed security companies work for the State Department in Iraq–the Worldwide Personal Protection Program–has its roots in Haiti during the Clinton administration. In 1994, private US forces, such as DynCorp, became a staple of US operations in the country following the overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide by CIA-backed death squads. When President Bush invaded Iraq, his administration radically expanded that program and turned it into the privatized paramilitary force it is today. At the time of his overthrow in 2004, Aristide was being protected by a San Francisco-based private security firm, the Steele Foundation.

Beyond the establishment mercenary industry’s activities in Haiti, look for more stories like this one: On January 15, a Florida-based company called All Pro Legal Investigations registered the URL It is basically a copy of the company’s existing US website but is now targeted for business in Haiti, claiming the “purpose of this site is to assure construction and reconstruction companies considering a Haiti project that professional security is available.”

“All Protection and Security has made a commitment to the Haitian community and will provide professional security against any threat to prosperity in Haiti,” the site proclaims. “Job sites and supply convoys will be protected against looters and vandals. Workers will be protected against gang violence and intimidation. The people of Haiti will recover, with the help of the good people from the world over.”

The company boasts that it has run “Thousands of successful missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.” As for its personnel, “Each and every member of our team is a former Law Enforcement Officer or former Military service member,” the site claims. “If Operator experience, training and qualifications matter, choose All Protection and Security for your high-threat Haiti security needs.” Among the services offered are: “High Threat terminations,” dealing with “worker unrest,” armed guards and “Armed Cargo Escorts.” Oh, and apparently they are currently hiring.

What is unfolding in Haiti seems to be part of what Naomi Klein has labeled the “Shock Doctrine.” Indeed, on the Heritage Foundation blog, opportunity was being found in the crisis with a post titled: “Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S.” “In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region,” wrote Heritage fellow Jim Roberts in a post that was subsequently altered to tone down the shock-doctrine language. The title was later changed to: “Things to Remember While Helping Haiti” and the wording changed to “In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti should address long-held concerns over the fragile political environment that exists in the region.””


“IPOA is a 501(c)(6) non-profit trade association. IPOA’s mission is to: promote high operational and ethical standards of firms active in the peace and stability operations industry; to engage in a constructive dialogue and advocacy with policy-makers about the growing and positive contribution of these firms to the enhancement of international peace, development and human security; to provides unique networking and business development opportunities for its member companies; and to inform the concerned public about the activities and role of the industry. IPOA is committed to raising the standards of the peace and stability operations industry to ensure sound and ethical professionalism and transparency in the conduct of peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction activities. All member companies subscribe to the IPOA Code of Conduct, which represents a constructive effort towards better regulating private sector operations in conflict and post-conflict environments. It reflects our belief that high standards will both benefit the industry and serve the greater causes of peace, development, and human security.”


CRISIS as OPPORTUNITY”amidst+the+suffering+crisis+in+haiti+offers+opportunities%%2022&cd=1&;hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S.
BY Jim Roberts / January 13th, 2010

“In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region. The U.S. government response should be bold and decisive. It must mobilize U.S. civilian and military capabilities for short-term rescue and relief and long-term recovery and reform. President Obama should tap high-level, bipartisan leadership. Clearly former President Clinton, who was already named as the U.N. envoy on Haiti, is a logical choice. President Obama should also reach out to a senior Republican figure, perhaps former President George W. Bush, to lead the bipartisan effort for the Republicans.

While on the ground in Haiti, the U.S. military can also interrupt the nightly flights of cocaine to Haiti and the Dominican Republic from the Venezuelan coast and counter the ongoing efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to destabilize the island of Hispaniola. This U.S. military presence, which should also include a large contingent of U.S. Coast Guard assets, can also prevent any large-scale movement by Haitians to take to the sea in rickety watercraft to try to enter the U.S. illegally.

Meanwhile, the U.S. must be prepared to insist that the Haiti government work closely with the U.S. to insure that corruption does not infect the humanitarian assistance flowing to Haiti. Long-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy are also badly overdue.
Congress should immediately begin work on a package of assistance, trade, and reconstruction efforts needed to put Haiti on its feet and open the way for deep and lasting democratic reforms. The U.S. should implement a strong and vigorous public diplomacy effort to counter the negative propaganda certain to emanate from the Castro-Chavez camp. Such an effort will also demonstrate that the U.S.’s involvement in the Caribbean remains a powerful force for good in the Americas and around the globe.


Today, the United States began surveying the damage inflicted by a devastating earthquake in Haiti this week. In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake should address long-held concerns over the fragile political environment that exists in the region.

The U.S. government response should be bold and decisive. It must mobilize U.S. civilian and military capabilities for short-term rescue and relief and long-term recovery and reform. President Obama should tap high-level, bipartisan leadership. Clearly former President Clinton, who was already named as the U.N. envoy on Haiti, is a logical choice. President Obama should also reach out to a senior Republican figure, perhaps former President George W. Bush, to lead the bipartisan effort for the Republicans.

While on the ground in Haiti, the U.S. military can also interrupt the nightly flights of cocaine to Haiti and the Dominican Republic from the Venezuelan coast and counter the ongoing efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to destabilize the island of Hispaniola. This U.S. military presence, which should also include a large contingent of U.S. Coast Guard assets, can also prevent any large-scale movement by Haitians to take to the sea in dangerous and rickety watercraft to try to enter the U.S. illegally.

Meanwhile, the U.S. must be prepared to insist that the Haiti government work closely with the U.S. to insure that corruption does not infect the humanitarian assistance flowing to Haiti. Long-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy are also badly overdue. Congress should immediately begin work on a package of assistance, trade, and reconstruction efforts needed to put Haiti on its feet and open the way for deep and lasting democratic reforms.

The U.S. should implement a strong and vigorous public diplomacy effort to counter the negative propaganda certain to emanate from the Castro-Chavez camp. Such an effort will also demonstrate that the U.S.’s involvement in the Caribbean remains a powerful force for good in the Americas and around the globe.

Global Activism At Work: IMF Clarifies Loan
BY Richard Kim / January 21, 2010

“Last Friday I wrote about the IMF’s new $100 million loan to Haiti. I cited debt relief activists who told me that the new loan would be an extension of the IMF’s existing loan of $165 million. This information was confirmed by the IMF’s press release, which stated that “emergency financing would be provided as an augmentation to the existing IMF-supported arrangement with Haiti under the Extended Credit Facility [ECF].” The IMF’s announcement provided no further information about conditions that may or may not be attached to the loan and made no mention of future debt relief for Haiti.

My post was based largely on an analysis by Soren Ambrose, the development finance coordinator of ActionAid International, who concluded that augmenting the existing ECF loan to Haiti would impose the same conditions as the original loan. Those conditions include raising prices for electricity, refusing pay raises for any public sector employees except those making minimum wage and keeping inflation as low as possible. Ambrose says that he doesn’t know of any established procedure that would exempt an augmentation of an existing program from the program’s conditions. (His analysis also noted that Haiti’s existing program with the IMF was due to expire at the end of this month and that negotiations on the loan’s terms were likely underway already.)

As the IMF announced its $100 million loan under vague and presumably onerous terms, debt relief activists like the folks at Jubilee USA were already calling for a different kind of global response. They were demanding that aid to Haiti come in the form of grants, not loans. But given the magnitude of the crisis and the fact that the IMF does not issue grants, they welcomed the IMF loan in the hopes that its terms could be altered in the future and that Haiti’s entire debt could be canceled. At the same time, Naomi Klein and others warned about the possibility that the earthquake would be used as a pretext to amp up Haiti’s exposure to the shock doctrine. Activists started a Facebook group, No Shock Doctrine for Haiti, and in less than a week, it has attracted almost 18,000 members. Appeals for debt relief and for the recognition of Haiti’s economic sovereignty were written to the Obama administration, the IMF, the World Bank and anyone else who might play a role in Haiti’s reconstruction.

Today, the IMF put out an announcement clarifying the terms of its new loan to Haiti — it’s “an interest-free loan of $100 million in emergency funds.” A spokesman for the IMF emailed me to confirm that “the US $100 million loan does not carry any conditionality. It is an emergency loan aimed at getting the Haitian economy back to function again…” The IMF’s managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said in a statement that the IMF would immediately work to cancel the entirety of Haiti’s debt ($265 million) to the fund:

“The most important thing is that the IMF is now working with all donors to try to delete all the Haitian debt, including our new loan. If we succeed—and I’m sure we will succeed—even this loan will turn out to be finally a grant, because all the debt will have been deleted.”

In other words, as the IMF is processing a loan, it is also making a public promise to try to cancel it.

Klein says that this is “unprecedented in my experience and shows that public pressure in moments of disaster can seriously subvert shock doctrine tactics.” Neil Watkins, Executive Director of Jubilee USA, likewise hails the IMF’s response. “Since the IMF’s announcement last week of its intention to provide Haiti with a $100 million loan, Jubilee USA and our partners have been calling for grants and debt cancellation—not new loans—for Haiti. We are pleased that Managing Director Strauss-Kahn has responded to that call.”

Watkins and others will continue to follow the issue, holding the IMF to its commitment to debt relief and non-conditionality. They’re also pressing the case on Haiti’s other outstanding debt. The largest multilateral holders of Haiti’s debt are the Inter-American Development Bank ($447 million), the IMF ($165 million, plus $100 million in new lending), the World Bank’s International Development Association ($39 million) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development ($13 million). The largest bilateral loans are held by Venezuela ($295 million—hello, Chavez!?) and Taiwan ($92 million). The lesson: global activism can work, especially in a moment of such acutely visible human need. Keep up the mobilization, on Facebook and in real life.

for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation


IMF urges ‘Marshall Plan’ for Haiti

The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has called for an ambitious international recovery plan for earthquake-ravaged Haiti, similar to the US “Marshall Plan” that rebuilt Europe after World War II. “My belief is that Haiti, which has been incredibly hit by different things – the food and fuel prices crisis, then the hurricane, then the earthquake – needs something that is big,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn told reporters on Wednesday.

What is needed, he said, is “not only a piecemeal approach, but something which is much bigger to deal with the reconstruction of the country – some kind of a Marshall Plan that we need now to implement for Haiti.” While the primary focus remains on rescue and immediate relief efforts after the massive January 12 quake, international financial institutions say urgent measures are needed to help rebuild Haiti’s shattered economy.

Officials fear as many as 200,000 people were killed in the quake that reduced most of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince to rubble and impacted an estimated three million people, or one third of the country’s population. “The urgency, today, is to save the people. The urgency, in some weeks, will be the reconstruction,” Strauss-Kahn said. Last week, the IMF promised an interest-free loan of $100 million in initial emergency funds to the Haitian government. However, the loan has drawn criticism for adding to the country’s debt burden.

“The most important thing is that the IMF is now working with all donors to try to delete all the Haitian debt, including our new loan,” Strauss-Kahn said. The IMF and the World Bank classify Haiti among “heavily indebted poor countries” eligible for debt forgiveness. The Caribbean nation was granted $1.2bn in debt relief last June.

Economic recovery
Experts say cash flow needs to be urgently restored to begin recovery [Reuters] The IMF is also working with donors to get cash circulating again in Haiti’s devastated economy so people can buy food and civil servants can get paid, a senior IMF official said on Wednesday. According to Nicolas Eyzaguirre, director of the IMF’s western hemisphere department, banks will reopen shortly while some money transfer agencies are already functioning for remittances sent by Haitians living abroad.

Remittances for Haitian expatriates have been a major “We need to urgently help Haiti to get its economy functioning again,” he said. Eyzaguirre said the cost to the Haitian economy wrought by the quake would probably exceed the $900m – or about 15 per cent of the country’s GDP – caused by devastating hurricanes in 2008. However he said in the early days after the quake there was still a lot of uncertainty over the full impact.

Davos agenda
Disaster-hit Haiti will also be one of the top agenda items at this year’s gathering of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Klaus Schwab, the group’s chairman and founder, has said. The annual meeting, which will draw more than 2,000 government, business and religious leaders from around the world, is scheduled to begin on January 27, two weeks after the earthquake struck.

Schwab said a special panel on Haiti will be held on January 28, where a reconstruction initiative should be outlined. “We hope that we can present a major common effort to the world community showing true corporate global citizenship in Davos,” Schwab said during a news conference in Geneva on Wednesday. Former US president Bill Clinton, who acts as a special envoy for Haiti, and Helen Clark, the former New Zealand prime minister and administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, will support the WEF’s initiative.


Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution

It was the only successful slave insurrection in history. It grasped the full meaning of French revolutionary ideas — liberté, eqalité, fraternité — and used them to create the world’s first Black republic. It changed the trajectory of colonial economics…and led to America’s acquisition of the Louisiana territory from France. “It” was the Haitian Revolution, a movement that’s been called the true birth moment of universal human rights. Vaguely remembered today, the Haitian Revolution was a hurricane at the turn of the nineteenth century — traumatizing Southern planters and inspiring slaves and abolitionists, worldwide.

The man at the forefront of Haiti’s epochal uprising was Toussaint Louverture. He was world-known in his day and deserves a place among history’s most celebrated figures today. Born into slavery, Toussaint had been freed by his master before the revolt began. He owned property and was financially secure. He risked it all, however, to join then lead an army of slaves that would fight, in turn, the French, the British, and the Spanish empires for twelve years. He was often compared to George Washington. But his is military feats alarmed Thomas Jefferson… and ultimately provoked a full-scale attack from Napoleon Bonaparte. France’s final offensive would cost Toussaint his life. But France lost, nonetheless, and the richest colony in the Americas became an independent black republic.

The story of Haiti’s revolution is a story of extraordinary pathos. Half a million slaves dared hope for an unprecedented end to slavery and thousands died in the process. But the revolution’s history is also a story of forgotten people and milestones. Haitian slaves did not just fight with weapons. In 1794 a multi-racial delegation from Haiti traveled to Paris to address the national assembly. They spoke powerfully about slavery’s moral and physical violence. They argued that their struggle was part of France’s domestic revolution against despotism. And they won the day. The elocution of Haitian Blacks led to a sudden decree that not only freed the empire’s entire slave population, it made them French citizens, too.

the HAITIAN REVOLUTION of 1791-1803

The Slave Rebellion of 1791 / [data as of December 1989]

Violent conflicts between white colonists and black slaves were common in Saint-Domingue. Bands of runaway slaves, known as maroons (marrons), entrenched themselves in bastions in the colony’s mountains and forests, from which they harried white-owned plantations both to secure provisions and weaponry and to avenge themselves against the inhabitants. As their numbers grew, these bands, sometimes consisting of thousands of people, began to carry out hit-and-run attacks throughout the colony. This guerrilla warfare, however, lacked centralized organization and leadership. The most famous maroon leader was François Macandal, whose six-year rebellion (1751-57) left an estimated 6,000 dead. Reportedly a boko, or voodoo sorcerer, Macandal drew from African traditions and religions to motivate his followers. The French burned him at the stake in Cap Français in 1758. Popular accounts of his execution that say the stake snapped during his execution have enhanced his legendary stature.

Many Haitians point to the maroons’ attacks as the first manifestation of a revolt against French rule and the slaveholding system. The attacks certainly presaged the 1791 slave rebellion, which evolved into the Haitian Revolution. They also marked the beginning of a martial tradition for blacks, just as service in the colonial militia had done for the gens de couleur. The maroons, however, seemed incapable of staging a broad-based insurrection on their own. Although challenged and vexed by the maroons’ actions, colonial authorities effectively repelled the attacks, especially with help from the gens de couleur, who were probably forced into cooperating.

The arrangement that enabled the whites and the landed gens de couleur to preserve the stability of the slaveholding system was unstable. In an economic sense, the system worked for both groups. The gens de couleur, however, had aspirations beyond the accumulation of goods. They desired equality with white colonists, and many of them desired power. The events set in motion in 1789 by the French Revolution shook up, and eventually shattered, the arrangement.

The National Assembly in Paris required the white Colonial Assembly to grant suffrage to the landed and tax-paying gens de couleur. (The white colonists had had a history of ignoring French efforts to improve the lot of the black and the mulatto populations.) The Assembly refused, leading to the first mulatto rebellion in Saint-Domingue. The rebellion, led by Vincent Ogé in 1790, failed when the white militia reinforced itself with a corps of black volunteers. (The white elite was constantly prepared to use racial tension between blacks and mulattoes to advantage.) Ogé’s rebellion was a sign of broader unrest in Saint-Domingue.

A slave rebellion of 1791 finally toppled the colony. Launched in August of that year, the revolt represented the culmination of a protracted conspiracy among black leaders. According to accounts of the rebellion that have been told through the years, François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture helped plot the uprising, although this claim has never been substantiated. Among the rebellion’s leaders were Boukman, a maroon and voodoo houngan (priest); Georges Biassou, who later made Toussaint his aide; Jean-François, who subsequently commanded forces, along with Biassou and Toussaint, under the Spanish flag; and Jeannot, the bloodthirstiest of them all. These leaders sealed their compact with a voodoo ceremony conducted by Boukman in the Bois Cayman (Alligator Woods) in early August 1791. On August 22, a little more than a week after the ceremony, the uprising of their black followers began.

The carnage that the slaves wreaked in northern settlements, such as Acul, Limbé, Flaville, and Le Normand, revealed the simmering fury of an oppressed people. The bands of slaves slaughtered every white person they encountered. As their standard, they carried a pike with the carcass of an impaled white baby. Accounts of the rebellion describe widespread torching of property, fields, factories, and anything else that belonged to, or served, slaveholders. The inferno is said to have burned almost continuously for months.

News of the slaves’ uprising quickly reached Cap Français. Reprisals against nonwhites were swift and every bit as brutal as the atrocities committed by the slaves. Although outnumbered, the inhabitants of Le Cap (the local diminutive for Cap Français) were well-armed and prepared to defend themselves against the tens of thousands of blacks who descended upon the port city. Despite their voodoo-inspired heroism, the ex-slaves fell in large numbers to the colonists’ firepower and were forced to withdraw. The rebellion left an estimated 10,000 blacks and 2,000 whites dead and more than 1,000 plantations sacked and razed.

Even though it failed, the slave rebellion at Cap Français set in motion events that culminated in the Haitian Revolution. Mulatto forces under the capable leadership of André Rigaud, Alexandre Pétion, and others clashed with white militiamen in the west and the south (where, once again, whites recruited black slaves to their cause). Sympathy with the Republican cause in France inspired the mulattoes. Sentiment in the National Assembly vacillated, but it finally favored the enfranchisement of gens de couleur and the enforcement of equal rights. Whites, who had had little respect for royal governance in the past, now rallied behind the Bourbons and rejected the radical egalitarian notions of the French revolutionaries. Commissioners from the French Republic, dispatched in 1792 to Saint-Domingue, pledged their limited support to the gens de couleur in the midst of an increasingly anarchic situation. In various regions of the colony, black slaves rebelled against white colonists, mulattoes battled white levies, and black royalists opposed both whites and mulattoes. Foreign interventionists found these unstable conditions irresistible; Spanish and British involvement in the unrest in Saint-Domingue opened yet another chapter in the revolution.

Federal Research Division Library of Congress
Edited by Richard A. Haggerty / Research Completed December 1989

Although Hispaniola never realized its economic potential under Spanish rule, it remained strategically important as the gateway to the Caribbean. The Caribbean region provided the opportunity for seafarers from Britain, France, and the Netherlands to impede Spanish shipping, to waylay galleons crammed with gold, and to establish a foothold in a hemisphere parceled by papal decree between the Roman Catholic kingdoms of Spain and Portugal. This competition was carried on throughout the Caribbean, but nowhere as intensely as on Hispaniola. Sir Francis Drake of England led one of the most famous forays against the port of Santo Domingo in 1586, just two years before he played a key role in the English navy’s defeat of the Spanish Armada. Drake failed to secure the island, but his raid, along with the arrival of corsairs and freebooters in scattered settlements, was part of a pattern of encroachment that gradually diluted Spanish dominance.

French Settlement and Sovereignty
Reportedly expelled by the Spanish from Saint Christopher (Saint Kitts), the original French residents of Tortuga Island (Ile de la Tortue), off the northwest coast of Hispaniola, sustained themselves mostly through two means: curing the meat and tanning the hides of wild game, and pirating Spanish ships. The former activity lent these hardy souls the colorful designation of buccaneers, derived from the Arawak word for the smoking of meat. It took decades for the buccaneers and the more staid settlers that followed them to establish themselves on Tortuga. Skirmishes with Spanish and English forces were common. As the maintenance of the empire tried the wit, and drained the energies, of a declining Spain, however, foreign intervention became more forceful.

The freewheeling society of Tortuga that was often described in romantic literature had faded into legend by the end of the seventeenth century. The first permanent settlement on Tortuga was established in 1659 under the commission of King Louis XIV. French Huguenots had already begun to settle the north coast of Hispaniola by that time. The establishment in 1664 of the French West India Company for the purpose of directing the expected commerce between the colony and France underscored the seriousness of the enterprise. Settlers steadily encroached upon the northwest shoulder of the island, and they took advantage of the area’s relative remoteness from the Spanish capital city of Santo Domingo. In 1670 they established their first major community, Cap François (later Cap Français, now Cap-Haïtien). During this period, the western part of the island was commonly referred to as Saint-Domingue, the name it bore officially after Spain relinquished sovereignty over the area to France in the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697.

Colonial Society: The Conflicts of Color and Class
By the mid-eighteenth century, a territory largely neglected under Spanish rule had become the richest and most coveted colony in the Western Hemisphere. By the eve of the French Revolution, Saint-Domingue produced about 60 percent of the world’s coffee and about 40 percent of the sugar imported by France and Britain. Saint-Domingue played a pivotal role in the French economy, accounting for almost two-thirds of French commercial interests abroad and about 40 percent of foreign trade. The system that provided such largess to the mother country, such luxury to planters, and so many jobs in France had a fatal flaw, however. That flaw was slavery.

The origins of modern Haitian society lie within the slaveholding system. The mixture of races that eventually divided Haiti into a small, mainly mulatto elite and an impoverished black majority began with the slavemasters’ concubinage of African women. Today Haiti’s culture and its predominant religion (voodoo) stem from the fact that the majority of slaves in SaintDomingue were brought from Africa. (The slave population totalled at least 500,000, and perhaps as many as 700,000, by 1791.) Only a few of the slaves had been born and raised on the island. The slaveholding system in Saint-Domingue was particularly cruel and abusive, and few slaves (especially males) lived long enough to reproduce. The racially tinged conflicts that have marked Haitian history can be traced similarly to slavery.

While the masses of black slaves formed the foundation of colonial society, the upper strata evolved along lines of color and class. Most commentators have classified the population of the time into three groups: white colonists, or blancs; free blacks (usually mulattoes, or gens de couleur–people of color), or affranchis; and the slaves.

Conflict and resentment permeated the society of SaintDomingue . Beginning in 1758, the white landowners, or grands blancs, discriminated against the affranchis through legislation. Statutes forbade gens de couleur from taking up certain professions, marrying whites, wearing European clothing, carrying swords or firearms in public, or attending social functions where whites were present. The restrictions eventually became so detailed that they essentially defined a caste system. However, regulations did not restrict the affranchis’ purchase of land, and some eventually accumulated substantial holdings. Others accumulated wealth through another activity permitted to affranchis by the grands blancs–in the words of historian C.L.R. James, “The privilege of lending money to white men.” The mounting debt of the white planters to the gens de couleur provided further motivation for racial discrimination.

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters


On January 1, 1804, Haiti proclaimed its independence. Through this action, it became the second independent state in the Western Hemisphere and the first free black republic in the world. Haiti’s uniqueness attracted much attention and symbolized the aspirations of enslaved and exploited peoples around the globe. Nonetheless, Haitians made no overt effort to inspire, to support, or to aid slave rebellions similar to their own because they feared that the great powers would take renewed action against them. For the sake of national survival, nonintervention became a Haitian credo.

Dessalines, who had commanded the black and the mulatto forces during the final phase of the revolution, became the new country’s leader; he ruled under the dictatorial 1801 constitution. The land he governed had been devastated by years of warfare. The agricultural base was all but destroyed, and the population was uneducated and largely unskilled. Commerce was virtually nonexistent. Contemplating this bleak situation, Dessalines determined, as Toussaint had done, that a firm hand was needed.

White residents felt the sting most sharply. While Toussaint, a former privileged slave of a tolerant white master, had felt a certain magnanimity toward whites, Dessalines, a former field slave, despised them with a maniacal intensity. He reportedly agreed wholeheartedly with his aide, Boisrond-Tonnerre, who stated, “For our declaration of independence, we should have the skin of a white man for parchment, his skull for an inkwell, his blood for ink, and a bayonet for a pen!” Accordingly, whites were slaughtered wholesale under the rule of Dessalines.

Although blacks were not massacred under Dessalines, they witnessed little improvement in the quality of their lives. To restore some measure of agricultural productivity, Dessalines reestablished the plantation system. Harsh measures bound laborers to their assigned work places, and penalties were imposed on runaways and on those who harbored them. Because Dessalines drew his only organizational experience from war, it was natural for him to use the military as a tool for governing the new nation. The rule of Dessalines set a pattern for direct involvement of the army in politics that continued unchallenged for more than 150 years.

In 1805 Dessalines crowned himself Emperor of Haiti. By this point, his autocratic rule had disenchanted important sectors of Haitian society, particularly mulattoes such as Pétion. The mulattoes resented Dessalines mostly for racial reasons, but the more educated and cultured gens de couleur also derided the emperor (and most of his aides and officers) for his ignorance and illiteracy. Efforts by Dessalines to bring mulatto families into the ruling group through marriage met with resistance. Pétion himself declined the offer of the hand of the emperor’s daughter. Many mulattoes were appalled by the rampant corruption and licentiousness of the emperor’s court. Dessalines’s absorption of a considerable amount of land into the hands of the state through the exploitation of irregularities in titling procedures also aroused the ire of landowners.

The disaffection that sealed the emperor’s fate arose within the ranks of the army, where Dessalines had lost support at all levels. The voracious appetites of his ruling clique apparently left little or nothing in the treasury for military salaries and provisions. Although reportedly aware of discontent among the ranks, Dessalines made no effort to redress these shortcomings. Instead, he relied on the same iron-fisted control with which he kept rural laborers in line. That his judgement in this matter had been in error became apparent on the road to Port-au-Prince as he rode with a column of troops on its way to crush a mulattoled rebellion. A group of people, probably hired by Pétion or Etienne-Elie Gérin (another mulatto officer), shot the emperor and hacked his body to pieces.

Under Dessalines the Haitian economy had made little progress despite the restoration of forced labor. Conflict between blacks and mulattoes ended the cooperation that the revolution had produced, and the brutality toward whites shocked foreign governments and isolated Haiti internationally. A lasting enmity against Haiti arose among Dominicans as a result of the emperor’s unsuccessful invasion of Santo Domingo in 1805. Dessalines’s failure to consolidate Haiti and to unite Haitians had ramifications in the years that followed, as the nation split into two rival enclaves.



These men were known for the meat that they barbecued (French for smoked meat is viande boucanee), and so eventually were named… Buccaneers. When these hunters learned that piracy was more profitable than selling meat, they were soon making regular raids on the Spanish ships sailing the local trade routes. An early French governor named Jean le Vasseur used his training as an engineer to build a 24-gun fort by the harbor which helped to repel Spanish attacks. French governors preferred to use the buccaneers for local defense, as the British governors were later to do at Port Royal, and Tortuga Island became well-known for those men calling themselves the Brethren of the Coast. The most notorious among the pirates of Tortuga was Francois L’Ollonais, a psychopath whose method of choice was often horrible tortures and murder. Sir Henry Morgan started his career of piracy from this very island.


Tortuga was initially founded by the French in 1625, who realized Hispaniola was awfully thick with Spaniards and so turned their attentions to the large island just northward. There the French and some English with them began setting up plantations and making themselves at home. However, the Spaniards and their new neighbors took periodic swats at each other and control of the island switched back and forth a few times. Most of the English on Tortuga decided to move elsewhere, but a few remained to form their own small colony. For a time the French and English on Tortuga both had their own colonies and governors, and managed an uneasy co-existance.

It was the French who first encouraged privateers to use Tortuga as their base, in large part as a deterent to Spanish incursions. By 1633 Tortuga is a haven for the wolves of the sea. Tortuga comes under attack by the Spanish several times over the years, the struggle for control bloody and fierce. By 1641 the English colonists on Tortuga were expelled by the French – but this did not curtail English pirates or privateers, who continued to ply their trade with their French and Dutch brethren, and Tortuga’s uproarious career likewise continued. In 1653 the French governor was assassinated, whereupon the Spanish instantly pounced on his predecessor, and when the smoke cleared the English returned to hold the island from 1655-59. But once again the balance of power changed to French hands.

About 1665 the governor of Tortuga wished to somewhat civilize his piratical folk, and did his best to encourage proper colonization and trade of their hard-won goods. He met with dubious success, but the island continued to be the playground of the Brotherhood of the Coast. By 1670 a great many privateers sailed under commisions granted by the governor of Tortuga, not the least being the infamous Henry Morgan, who led his fleet to attack Santa Marta, Rio de la Hacha, Puerto Bello and Panama.

The death of the privateers came in the 1680’s, when English laws made it a felony to sail under a foreign flag. Thereafter if any Englishman was found privateering under any flag other than his own – and after the 1684 Treaty of Ratisbone England no longer issued letters of marque – he would be hanged. In 1688 Henry Morgan died in Jamaica, and the glory days of the privateers was over.

Freeport Tortuga + Don Pierson

In 1967, during the time that Don Pierson was attempting to lease the ship which had been the former homes of [pirate stations] Swinging Radio England and Britain Radio, he received a response from the Ambassador for Haiti in Washington, DC. Don Pierson’s original plan was to lease or sell the ship to the government of Haiti for it to establish two powerful 50 kW commercial radio stations aimed at American tourists visiting the old buccaneer stronghold of Tortuga island, which is located some 10 miles off the north coast of the main Haitian island of Hispaniola which is also shared by the Dominican Republic.

This offer became a plan to develop the island itself as a freeport and he was asked to assist the government of Haiti to encourage business investment in that poverty-stricken land. After years of research and negotiation, Don Pierson’s idea of a privately financed, privately managed free enterprise zone became a reality in 1971 when Haitian dictator François Duvalier (known as “Papa Doc”) and the Haitian government entered into a 99-year contract with Don Pierson’s company called Dupont Caribbean Inc. This contract provided for the establishment of Freeport Tortuga.

Within 18 months Don Pierson succeeded in building the island’s first airport, a loading dock for seagoing vessels, a rudimentary water and sewer system, an electricity generating facility, and six miles of paved road. Of equal importance. the project created jobs for some 400 previously unemployed Haitians and resulted in the establishment of a small school to teach various job skills. During this period he also became Honorary Consul of the Republic of Haiti to Texas from 1969 through 1974. Tragically, the free port project came to abrupt end in 1974 when, after it was announced that Gulf Oil Corporation was contemplating investing more than $300 million to build a resort on the island, the government of Jean-Claude Duvalier (known as “Baby Doc”), summarily expropriated the project, resulting in its collapse. A similar venture on the island of Dominica which was attempted in the wake of the failed project in Haiti, also met with disaster following governmental turmoil in Dominica.



Haiti: the land where children eat mud
What is the West doing to rescue the ‘nightmare republic’?
BY Alex von Tunzelmann / May 17, 2009

If you ever hear of Haiti, it is usually because of something frightening. It is famous for hurricanes, deforestation, poverty, drug smuggling, violence, dictatorships, voodoo and slavery. Half a century ago, when it was under the tyranny of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his “zombie” militia, Graham Greene called Haiti the “nightmare republic”. Though Papa Doc has long gone, the nightmares have never ended in this Caribbean dystopia. Haiti is the poorest country and only Third World nation in the western hemisphere, and it’s getting worse.

Two centuries ago, the political economist Robert Malthus postulated that a society in which the population grew too fast could reach a point where people simply could not be fed, leading to a total collapse. Over the past five years, Haiti has not only met but exceeded the conditions for a Malthusian catastrophe. The only things keeping the country from absolute disaster are imported food and charity. With a global economic crisis afoot, the question is how long that can be sustained. I had plenty of reservations about going to Haiti. It is a place born out of the darkest days of slavery: a country where white people have always been regarded, with some reason, as the enemy, and where, in some areas, half of all women and girls have been the victims of rape.

I am a historian, not a foreign correspondent or aid worker, but I wanted to see for myself what life was like in this haunted nation. Notables including Ban Ki-moon, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have visited Haiti in the past couple of months, highlighting the fact that the country is poised on the brink of what could be a humanitarian crisis of terrifying proportions.

In the 1960s, Papa Doc decorated the “Welcome to Haiti” sign at Port-au-Prince’s airport with the dismembered corpses of his enemies. At least they’ve taken those down. Instead there’s a calypso band playing for tips, and a swarm of hustling taxi drivers. Immediately I hear the epithet by which I will be known for the next week: la blanche, the white woman.

At the hotel in the relatively affluent suburb of Pétionville, there is a long list of rules. Don’t go out alone. Don’t walk more than two kilometres in any direction. Don’t go out after dark at all. If you hear gunshots, stay inside. Smile at the man toting an assault rifle who stands at the hotel entrance. He’s here for your protection.

Just why is Haiti in such a dire situation, so much worse than any other country in the Americas, and as bad as anywhere on Earth? Some blame the United Nations. Some blame the Americans. Some have theories about the collision of global warming with global capitalism. All are careful to point out that the Haitian elite deserves its reputation for being greedy, negligent and kleptocratic. “I think the Haitian people have been made to suffer by God,” Wilbert, a teacher, tells me, “but the time will come soon when we will be rewarded with Heaven.”

History tells a different story. The appalling state of the country is a direct result of having offended a quite different celestial authority — the French. France gained the western third of the island of Hispaniola — the territory that is now Haiti — in 1697. It planted sugar and coffee, supported by an unprecedented increase in the importation of African slaves. Economically, the result was a success, but life as a slave was intolerable. Living conditions were squalid, disease was rife, and beatings and abuses were universal. The slaves’ life expectancy was 21 years. After a dramatic slave uprising that shook the western world, and 12 years of war, Haiti finally defeated Napoleon’s forces in 1804 and declared independence. But France demanded reparations: 150m francs, in gold.

For Haiti, this debt did not signify the beginning of freedom, but the end of hope. Even after it was reduced to 60m francs in the 1830s, it was still far more than the war-ravaged country could afford. Haiti was the only country in which the ex-slaves themselves were expected to pay a foreign government for their liberty. By 1900, it was spending 80% of its national budget on repayments. In order to manage the original reparations, further loans were taken out — mostly from the United States, Germany and France. Instead of developing its potential, this deformed state produced a parade of nefarious leaders, most of whom gave up the insurmountable task of trying to fix the country and looted it instead. In 1947, Haiti finally paid off the original reparations, plus interest. Doing so left it destitute, corrupt, disastrously lacking in investment and politically volatile. Haiti was trapped in a downward spiral, from which it is still impossible to escape. It remains hopelessly in debt to this day.

Like all cities, Port-au-Prince has better and worse neighbourhoods. Unlike all cities, several of its worst neighbourhoods are declared conflict zones. Some slums are so dangerous that even the United Nations peacekeeping troops, who carry machineguns, do not venture in. The UN is not popular here. Peacekeepers are rumoured to have massacred unarmed slum-dwellers on several occasions. “A lot of people say the UN soldiers trade guns and drugs,” a Haitian student tells me while we walk around Champs de Mars, the park by the National Palace, a line of soldiers just in front of us. Many Haitians palpably mistrust foreigners. Pedestrians and peanut-sellers keep their eyes on me but stay back, as if I were a predator.

Just 10 minutes’ drive from the National Palace, past a cemetery filled with elaborate pastel-coloured tombs, is Carrefour Feuilles. A perilous stack of breeze blocks, filth and human misery teetering on the hills overlooking the bay, it is considered to be among the most dangerous and deprived of the city’s slums. The streets are too narrow and rutted to drive. I walk up steep paths in between shacks of mud and rusting corrugated iron. At every turn, the route is obstructed by heaps of discarded packaging, decomposing rubbish and human waste, over which goats and children crawl, foraging for food. In the blazing midday sun, the stench is hard to endure.

This is a place where you come face to face with Haiti’s industrial collapse. Unemployment, which hovers around 75% nationally, is higher here. Most people are illiterate, unskilled and unhealthy. The only vaguely legal option open to the majority of residents is to buy a few items of cheap produce, and sell them at a tiny profit in the markets. Unfortunately, the city’s recent effort to clean up the streets in the centre has meant that many of these traders have been kicked out. The remaining jobs open to them make an unappealing list: selling drugs, selling weapons, robbery, blackmail, prostitution and kidnapping. It is the kidnappings that make headlines.

For the gangs, in a country that produces virtually nothing, terror is one of the few reliable sources of income. Gang members ambush an ordinary person, usually someone unlikely to resist, such as a woman or a child. They saw off one of the victim’s fingers or an ear, and take it to the family, along with a demand for money. Even if the ransom is paid, the victim often ends up dead. At one point, kidnappings were reported five times a day. There was another peak in the first few months of 2008, but some arrests of gang leaders were made over the summer, and now the official statistics have stabilised at something closer to one incident every couple of days.

Foreigners have been targeted, which is why nobody will let me walk around on my own, but the greatest danger is to ordinary Haitians. Even slum-dwellers are often abducted and tortured by the gangs, sometimes for a ransom as little as the price of a cocktail in London.

“Parents in Carrefour Feuilles are happy when their son joins a gang,” one Haitian woman, who runs an anti-violence project, tells me. “They are also happy when their daughters become child prostitutes. It means the family can afford to eat.” Posters advocating sexual abstinence can be seen on every street. So far, they do not appear to be having much impact: population growth is rising. Haiti was considered unsustainably overcrowded in the 1950s, when the population was 3m. Now it is 9m. Survival is a daily effort, and these starving slum-dwellers will seize on any opportunity to earn money, however unpleasant.

The new idea from the UN and the US is Hope II, a programme that would give Haitian companies duty-free access to the American market for nine years. The focus is on agriculture and garment factories. A similar scheme has been running since 2006, and the results look good on paper: 3,000 jobs are said to have been created. On the street, though, the word is not good. Pay is subsistence level at best, and does not keep pace with food prices. Conditions are dangerous and unsanitary. Workers are charged for going to the toilet. Abuse is widespread.

There are people who argue that rich countries, too, once went through a stage of sweatshop labour, and that this is some sort of necessary purgatory on the road to improvement. It is an easy argument to make from a comfortable armchair in the home counties, but it is ahistorical. Haiti’s path of development has been completely different from those of the rich countries. The reason it has not become sustainable is that, for two centuries, rich countries and their banks have menaced almost all of its wealth out of it. For how much longer should the Haitians do penance?

The country’s problems were only exacerbated when, in 1957, François Duvalier became president. Exploiting Haitian beliefs in the traditions of voodoo (most Haitians still practise it today), he established a personal militia, the Tonton Macoutes, rumoured to be zombies he had raised from the dead, who soon gained a chilling reputation for rape and torture.

Papa Doc himself affected the style of Baron Samedi, the spirit of the dead, appearing in a black top hat and pinstriped suit. Reports from Haiti brought forth disgust from the developed world, but the protests did not turn into action. Instead of moving to condemn and remove these dictators, the world’s richest countries opened their chequebooks. In 1967, American-owned plantations in the Dominican Republic paid Papa Doc directly for rounding up 20,000 Haitians to work on their lands. In 1972, his son and heir, Baby Doc’s minister of the interior, was exposed for literally selling Haitian blood to private American hospitals: $3 a litre, no questions asked. During the Duvaliers’ combined 28 years in power, up to 60,000 Haitians were “disappeared” by the regime. The Duvaliers swindled international creditors and aid agencies for enormous sums. The American government, via various agencies and banks, lent millions to both dictators.

Though there was anger in Washington about the Duvaliers and their 80% rate of aid embezzlement, no action was taken to remove them until 1986. The Duvaliers were always happy to sign up to new loans, and to give lucrative contracts to American corporations. Most of the projects went nowhere. Haiti is littered with half-built and abandoned schools, hospitals, bridges and roads.

Most of the money lent to the Duvaliers found its way into private bank accounts. When Baby Doc fled, he took millions with him: estimates go as high as $900m. The debts incurred by the Duvaliers make up 45% of Haiti’s total current debt. None of the creditors finds the fact of their complicity a compelling argument for cancellation. Those creditors include the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the IMF and the governments of the US and France.

Debt relief is at the discretion of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, run by the World Bank and the IMF. Haiti must meet certain conditions, including poverty reduction and inflation controls, before any debt can be written off. By international standards, the sums are small, but for Haiti they are enormous. The World Bank alone demands an estimated $1.6m a month.

On April 14, in a speech at a conference on Haiti’s social and economic development, Robert B Zoellick, president of the World Bank Group, announced: “We are working closely with the authorities and the IMF to help expedite debt cancellation while ensuring that monies released go directly to support poverty reduction.” At the spring meeting of the World Bank and the IMF less than two weeks later, Haiti was judged again as having failed to show sufficient progress towards macroeconomic stability to qualify for debt cancellation. In a surprise move, however, the US government stepped in to cover Haiti’s debt service payments for the rest of this year.

Undoubtedly, the American gift is a boon, and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton do seem to be making a genuine effort to help. Obama’s tax return for this year revealed a personal donation of $2,000 to a Christian organisation working in Haiti. Clinton has also announced that she will re-examine US policy on Haitian migrants. At the moment, unlike the Cuban refugees who are given asylum, Haitians are considered economic migrants, and are imprisoned and deported.

Haiti’s record on political freedom is far from spotless, though it is in theory now a democracy. The most popular party among the impoverished majority, Fanmi Lavalas, was banned from contesting elections this month on the grounds that its leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, did not meet a very short deadline unexpectedly imposed for signing the hard copy of his party’s lists. He could not have done so: he is in exile in South Africa, having been ousted in a highly controversial UN intervention in 2004. There is some hope Clinton will award temporary work permits to Haitian illegals in the US. “But, at the same time,” she added in her announcement, “we don’t want to encourage other Haitians to make the dangerous journey across the water.” Both George W Bush in 2004 and Bill Clinton in 1994 justified military intervention in Haiti, partially on the basis that unmanageable numbers of “boat people” were turning up on their shores. “There is only one solution to Haiti’s problems, and that’s mass emigration,” one senior American foreign-policy expert told me. “But nobody wants to talk about it.” So Haiti remains in debt, relieved for now, but not for ever. And the question of France repaying some or all of the compensation it extracted for Haitian independence is not even on the agenda.

The Artibonite valley is the rural heart of Haiti. The potholed road out of the capital runs north through miles of bleak marshland. We drive past Titayen, a dumping-ground for the bodies of people murdered by political groups or criminal gangs. The hot air is oppressive with the weight of storm clouds. Near the town of Cabaret is a tent-city full of refugees. On both sides of the road, houses are stoved in, with walls and roofs ripped off, and whole floors of concrete folded in on themselves like origami. This is the parting gift left by Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, four storms that devastated Haiti in three weeks last summer. All around the valley rise high mountains. Fifty years ago, these were covered in dense tropical jungle. Now, there is nothing but brownish scrub. Eighty per cent of Haitians live below the poverty line, and cook on charcoal from scavenged wood. As the population has shot up, the forests have been cut down. Haiti is now 98% deforested. The roots of those trees held the land together. Now, every time a hurricane hits Haiti, the rains and floods sweep topsoil and soft clay from these hills down to the valleys and the coast. Arable land is stripped back to barren rubble, while whole towns such as Gonaives — until last August a city of 250,000 people — are buried under sludge.

At a nearby village, Robuste, dozens of excited children ambush me. Not many strangers come here, and they are intrigued. Even in the middle of horrific poverty, the people have not lost their sense of humour. I raise my camera to take a picture, and an old woman immediately begins weeping and howling. Shocked, I lower the camera, and she points at me and roars with laughter. It was a joke, and a clever one: she was satirising the usual news-agency photos. But most of the devastation here is all too real. In the hurricanes, half the houses in Robuste were washed away.

The village pastor takes me into his church, a comfortless hall in which over 200 refugees have been sleeping rough. One woman lies here, suffering from unidentified sickness in the aftermath of the floods. There is no doctor. Her year-old baby is left unattended on the concrete floor. He crawls up to me, wide-eyed. Slavery did not end with the revolution. A grim fate awaits many of the children in Robuste. When destitute Haitian families cannot feed their children, they send them to the towns. There are 300,000 such children in Haiti, around 10% of the entire child population. They are known as restaveks — a Creole word from the French rester avec, to stay with. Host families provide restaveks with food, clothing, shelter and in some cases education, in return for having the child work as a servant. Often these children are beaten, sexually abused, starved, denied medical treatment. In a couple of years the baby in front of me could be given up to this modern form of slavery. Restaveks as young as three have been found in Port-au-Prince. His mother rolls over in her sleep. She looks desperately ill. Soon, nobody in this village will have enough to eat. At that point the sending away of their children will begin.

Even before the hurricanes hit, Haiti was in the grip of a food crisis. A year ago, when the price of rice soared across the world, Haitians began to starve. There were confirmed reports of people being reduced to eating dirt. Cookies made of mud mixed with vegetable oil were all they could scrape together. In the slums of Port-au-Prince, Oxfam is funding community restaurants in an attempt to provide something more nutritious. People bring tin pots and pay 10 gourdes (16p) to have them filled with rice, beans and vegetables. It is thought that charging a small sum preserves people’s dignity, and avoids giving them the impression that they can rely on hand-outs. The restaurant is at a busy intersection, surrounded by a huge mass of people, mostly young men, shouting, banging their tin pots and jostling to get to the front. Food riots are common.

A little boy of about eight wanders up to us. He looks even thinner and more nervous than the other children, and is barefoot, dressed in a worn-out black string vest and threadbare shorts. Ian, Oxfam’s British press officer, is good with children. He leans down, smiles and shakes the boy’s hand. The boy wanders back to join the people waiting for food. He goes to a woman in her late thirties. “Get away from me!” she screams at him, smacking him across the face. “You shook hands with the blanc! Koko rat!” The crowd gasps. The name she has called him is one of the strongest insults in Creole, literally a crude expression for the genitals of a female rat, but the implication is worse. The woman means that the little boy is a traitor. Ian is aghast, but of course it’s not his fault. The little boy runs off. Moments later, he appears beside me again. He looks lost, and wears an expression of unbearable sadness. He had a tin bowl before, but it has gone. “Where’s his bowl?” I ask my Creole translator. She asks him. “Someone took it from him.” “We’ve got to find him another one,” I say. “He hasn’t had any food yet.” “There aren’t any around,” she replies.

It’s true. Nobody has a spare, and everyone here needs to eat. Just down the street, market stalls display mouldy vegetables and half-rotten meat crawling with flies. Even rotting food is too expensive for most slum-dwellers. By now the crowd is getting seriously aggressive. Men are shoving each other, and punches are thrown. The organiser hurries back to us. “We have to leave. Now.” At another roadside stall I see a painting of a pregnant Haitian woman crying tears of blood, while demonic white babies with sharpened teeth scramble to suckle from her breasts.

Graham Greene’s “nightmare republic” has become a literal fact. The next morning I board a bus to make the long journey through the mountains to Santo Domingo, the capital of the neighbouring Dominican Republic. Driving through Haiti, there are almost no trees to be seen. The roads are lined with scrub, thorns and piles of refuse. At the exact point of the border line, the world surges back into life. Suddenly the road is thick with towering mature trees, their branches heavy with lush green leaves, fat blossoms, singing birds. It is beautiful but heartbreaking, a reminder, if any were necessary, that things need not be as they are.

The facts
– last year’s hurricanes devastated more than 70% of Haiti’s agricultural land
– more than 80% of the population lives on less than £2 a day
– some 3.8% of the population is HIV-positive, according to Save the Children; among them 17,000 minors. Medical provisions are scarce. There is one doctor for every 3,000 patients.
– life expectancy at birth is 61 years. The survival rate of newborns is the lowest in the western hemisphere. One-third are born underweight.
– there are 80 deaths per 1,000 live births. The mortality rate for children under five is 120 in 1,000

Benin voodoo to calm evil spirits in Haiti
BY Razzack Saïzonou / 15 January 2010

“We are deeply affected and feel solidarity with our Haitian brothers,” said an emotional Queen Djehami following Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti. Djehami is the wife of Kpodégbé Toyi Djigla, King of Allada, a town in central Benin and one of the largest kingdoms of the country. “We are deeply affected, primarily because I am African, but mainly because I am from Allada. There is a sense of desolation at the palace.”

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Benin played a key role in the slave trade. Thousands of men and women were uprooted and sold as slaves to work in plantations in Europe, the Caribbean and America. Many of them came from Allada, as did the family of Toussaint L’ouverture, who later founded the Republic of Haiti.

Toussaint L’ouverture (1743-1803), nicknamed the Black Napoleon, was born on a plantation in the French colony of Saint Domingue. He was named Breda after the plantation as was the custom for slaves. His master, the relatively humane Mr Baillon de Libertat, encouraged Toussaint to learn to read and write, and appointed him as his coachman and then as his foreman. Later Toussaint led a revolution against slavery and Haiti became the first republic to be ruled by leaders with African ancestry.

Apart from the historical ties between Haiti and Benin, the two countries share the religion of their ancestors: voodoo. This religion is central to the worship and traditions of thousands of Haitians and Beninese. Queen Djehami believes that this week’s earthquake has happened because Haiti’s ancestors failed to carry out sacrifices. She explains that during his trip to Haiti six years ago, King Kpodégbé had warned the then President of Haiti of the need to organise sacrifices to appease angry spirits and ward off evil ones. His trip was part of bicentenary celebrations marking the death of Toussaint L’ouverture.

Although the Haitian authorities probably didn’t ignore the king’s warning, they did put off organising the rituals. “Haiti is profoundly African and these things should not be underestimated,” exclaims Queen Djehami. “His Majesty the King asked for a number of things to be done when we were there, but his wishes were not met. Was it negligence, was it that nobody believed in it?”

In an outburst of solidarity with the victims of the earthquake, the people of Benin and particularly those of Allada have organised traditional ceremonies to appease the spirits and seek the blessing of their ancestors for the Haitians.” A purification ceremony is planned for Haiti and a trip to the devastated island is even possible. We will continue to pray that it never happens again,” says the Queen of Allada.



“call Pat @ (800) 759-0700 to give your opinion of statements on Haiti, or put them on hold + just play music, it costs them money to wait for you”


Why it’s wrong to label Pat Robertson as a crackpot.
Posted Yesterday [1/14] at 4:12pm

“Pat Robertson has been called crazy, loony, and a crackpot based upon his comments regarding a 200 year old curse placed upon Haiti. This would be an inappropriate label. The story is based upon a myth created to justify a belief in White Supremacy, and has been maintained and repeated by Southern Christians to this day. Robertson was speaking in a code not understood by Northerners and Westerners, so it appears to fall to me to explain the origins off the myth, and the reasons it has survived in the South to this day, and continues to influence our foreign and domestic policy.

The myth is rooted in beliefs regarding the “Mark of Cain” [] which are widely held in the South. Most theologians believe the “Mark” referred to a curse to a nomadic lifestyle, and an inability to grow crops. The belief was used to justify the extermination of Native Americans, because they weren’t using the land profitably, while systematically burning their crops, and stealing their orchards. As long as taking lands could be justified through “making the land fertile” it was theologically justified. The irony of course is that world cuisines would be very different today without basic Native American crops such as potatoes, tomatoes, chili peppers, corn, blueberries, strawberries, and so on. But, that is another history for another day.

The “Mark of Cain” was made into skin color by Southern theologians, seeking to justify slavery. Therefore, to the degree that one’s skin was dark, it designated that person as less than human, and able to be exploited as any other animal with the approval of the Southerner’s God. I must add here, that is was not only the approval, but the destiny supported and guaranteed by the Southern God. When you hear a Southerner say, “Everything happens for a reason,” it means that everything that happens to a person, or a people, because it is their God’s will.

When Haiti achieved independence in 1804, the foundation of that set of beliefs was shaken. The only way to reconcile the belief of White Superiority with a Black Nation achieving independence was the intervention of the Devil. Therefore, a myth was created that said that the Haitians had made a deal with the Devil, and bore a new “Mark,” similar to that of Cain. The fact that Toussaint L’ouverture was an educated man, who fought to retain his freedom becomes obscured by the myth. This belief has influenced our dealings with Haiti, from Thomas Jefferson to the present day. Jefferson’s struggles with how to deal with Haiti have already been published, and I will not go through the history of our foreign policy with respect to Haiti with this entry.

This is not a fringe belief. In 1994, ONE HUNDRED AND NINTEY years after Haiti achieved independence, President Bill Clinton sent peacekeeping troops to Haiti under pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus when a military dictatorship supported by US business interests overthrew the popularly elected Aristede. Before the troops were sent to Haiti, they were briefed by a local expert chosen by the CIA, who said: “The briefing was only partly inexplicable to me. Many of the mindless prejudices of the briefing would resurface later as official documents, from Intelligence, Psychological Operations, and Civil Affairs. It was part of the attempt to minimize American contact with Haitian realities. It is going on to this day, and it is effective. Now, the bullshit is being disseminated by the United States Embassy. The press laps it up and regurgitates it for us uncritically, awed as always to be allowed so near the powerful.”

Robertson’s beliefs are neither crackpot, outside of the norm for many people in positions of power. They also inform the myth-building in Southern States on how to deal with the election of President Barack Obama. The mad scramble for a label from Anti-Christ to NAZI is a reflection of irreconcilable cognitive dissonance between Southern belief systems and reality. Within a day of Robertson’s remarks, a G.O.P. Spokesman stated that all ANYONE needed to do, INCLUDING THE UNITED NATIONS, was to heal the injuries, bury the dead, and GET OUT. This is belief and praxis, naked. Robertson is a GOP operative, and has advised presidents in the past, including Bush, and his bombing of Mayan villages coincided with Reagan’s support of the atrocities committed by the Contras, and by the systematic overthrow of democratically-elected governments in the Caribbean, Central, and South America and subsequent atrocities in this hemisphere.

To fail to recognize the importance of the system of beliefs in the behavior of Southerners, the praxis of those beliefs, and the way in which those beliefs are transmitted is to fail to recognize the danger of the situation. His belief in the Curse of Haiti, is supported by a belief system that cannot reconcile the United States having elected a Black President. The disbelief that Barack Obama is President along with the signs displayed at the various protests in the South, among significant portions of the South are indicative of the cognitive dissonance among that population. The situation parallels the cognitive dissonance caused by the independence of Haiti. It is a dangerous time for Pat Robertson, and that means it’s a dangerous time for all of us.

Does My God Hate Haiti?
BY Albert Mohler / January 14, 2010

The images streaming in from Haiti look like scenes from Dante’s Inferno. The scale of the calamity is unprecedented. In many ways, Haiti has almost ceased to exist. The earthquake that will forever change that nation came as subterranean plates shifted about six miles under the surface of the earth, along a fault line that had threatened trouble for centuries. But no one saw a quake of this magnitude coming. The 7.0 quake came like a nightmare, with the city of Port-au-Prince crumbling, entire villages collapsing, bodies flying in the air and crushed under mountains of debris. Orphanages, churches, markets, homes, and government buildings all collapsed. Civil government has virtually ceased to function. Without power, communication has been cut off and rescue efforts are seriously hampered. Bodies are piling up, hope is running out, and help, though on the way, will not arrive in time for many victims.

Even as boots are finally hitting the ground and relief efforts are reaching the island, estimates of the death toll range as high as 500,000. Given the mountainous terrain and densely populated villages that had been hanging along the fault line, entire villages may have disappeared. The Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation has experienced a catastrophe that appears almost apocalyptic. In truth, it is hard not to describe the earthquake as a disaster of biblical proportions. It certainly looks as if the wrath of God has fallen upon the Caribbean nation. Add to this the fact that Haiti is well known for its history of religious syncretism — mixing elements of various faiths, including occult practices. The nation is known for voodoo, sorcery, and a Catholic tradition that has been greatly influenced by the occult.

Haiti’s history is a catalog of political disasters, one after the other. In one account of the nation’s fight for independence from the French in the late 18th century, representatives of the nation are said to have made a pact with the Devil to throw off the French. According to this account, the Haitians considered the French as Catholics and wanted to side with whomever would oppose the French. Thus, some would use that tradition to explain all that has marked the tragedy of Haitian history — including now the earthquake of January 12, 2010.

Does God hate Haiti? That is the conclusion reached by many, who point to the earthquake as a sign of God’s direct and observable judgment. God does judge the nations — all of them — and God will judge the nations. His judgment is perfect and his justice is sure. He rules over all the nations and his sovereign will is demonstrated in the rising and falling of nations and empires and peoples. Every molecule of matter obeys his command, and the earthquakes reveal his reign — as do the tides of relief and assistance flowing into Haiti right now.

A faithful Christian cannot accept the claim that God is a bystander in world events. The Bible clearly claims the sovereign rule of God over all his creation, all of the time. We have no right to claim that God was surprised by the earthquake in Haiti, or to allow that God could not have prevented it from happening. God’s rule over creation involves both direct and indirect acts, but his rule is constant. The universe, even after the consequences of the Fall, still demonstrates the character of God in all its dimensions, objects, and occurrences. And yet, we have no right to claim that we know why a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti happened at just that place and at just that moment.

The arrogance of human presumption is a real and present danger. We can trace the effects of a drunk driver to a car accident, but we cannot trace the effects of voodoo to an earthquake — at least not so directly. Will God judge Haiti for its spiritual darkness? Of course. Is the judgment of God something we can claim to understand in this sense — in the present? No, we are not given that knowledge. Jesus himself warned his disciples against this kind of presumption.

Why did no earthquake shake Nazi Germany? Why did no tsunami swallow up the killing fields of Cambodia? Why did Hurricane Katrina destroy far more evangelical churches than casinos? Why do so many murderous dictators live to old age while many missionaries die young? Does God hate Haiti? God hates sin, and will punish both individual sinners and nations. But that means that every individual and every nation will be found guilty when measured by the standard of God’s perfect righteousness. God does hate sin, but if God merely hated Haiti, there would be no missionaries there; there would be no aid streaming to the nation; there would be no rescue efforts — there would be no hope.

The earthquake in Haiti, like every other earthly disaster, reminds us that creation groans under the weight of sin and the judgment of God. This is true for every cell in our bodies, even as it is for the crust of the earth at every point on the globe. The entire cosmos awaits the revelation of the glory of the coming Lord. Creation cries out for the hope of the New Creation. In other words, the earthquake reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only real message of hope. The cross of Christ declares that Jesus loves Haiti — and the Haitian people are the objects of his love. Christ would have us show the Haitian nation his love, and share his Gospel. In the midst of this unspeakable tragedy, Christ would have us rush to aid the suffering people of Haiti, and rush to tell the Haitian people of his love, his cross, and salvation in his name alone.

Everything about the tragedy in Haiti points to our need for redemption. This tragedy may lead to a new openness to the Gospel among the Haitian people. That will be to the glory of God. In the meantime, Christ’s people must do everything we can to alleviate the suffering, bind up the wounded, and comfort the grieving. If Christ’s people are called to do this, how can we say that God hates Haiti? If you have any doubts about this, take your Bible and turn to John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. That is God’s message to Haiti.

[ “I am always glad to hear from readers and listeners. Write me at” ]

“See also these two articles from the Katrina disaster:”

The only golf course

GOP DeVore’s Spokesman: World Community Should Leave Haiti ASAP / 01-14-10

“Earlier today, I wrote about the push by several major foreign policy voices to ensure that America’s role in restructuring Haiti extends beyond emergency response to the earthquake. The politics seem logical — the impoverished country has endured plenty of socioeconomic chaos in addition to natural disasters in recent history. And now, more than ever, there is a moral and geopolitical imperative for the U.S. to be involved. But rallying domestic support for a long-term U.S. commitment to Haitian affairs has long proved difficult. And here is another example why:

The communications director for California Republican Senate candidate Chuck DeVore tweeted on Thursday that America, the world and even charity organizations should immediately leave the island once immediate and limited recovery is done. “[T]he best thing the int’l community can do is tend the wounded, bury the dead, and then LEAVE. That includes all UN and charity,” wrote Josh Trevino. This seems a bit blunt, even for the most non-interventionist of Republican candidates (DeVore is a Tea Party favorite). But it also is a reflection of Americans’ widespread skepticism about the prospects of building a functioning and stable Haitian society. I asked former National Security Adviser Tony Lake about the problem in sustaining U.S. interest in Haiti during an interview on Wednesday. He didn’t have any specific explanation, but acknowledged that it was problematic. “There are political voices in the United States that have spoken up for the Haitians, including the black caucus,” Lake said. “But generally the political weight of the Haitian community in the United States has been less than the community deserves. And I think that has been a problem in maintaining a consistent American interest.””

Soldier’s testimony: US intervention salvaged the thugs
BY Marshall Valentine (alias)

In September of 1994, when US forces entered the Republic of Haiti, I was the detachment operations NCO for a Special Forces A Team. My team was given the mission of controlling almost a thousand square kilometers in the Northeast Department of Haiti. We were to base ourselves out of Fort Liberte, a political center near the northern Dominican border.

In August of ’94, just one month before the decision was announced to occupy Haiti, we were instructed to attend an intelligence briefing on Haiti that had been coordinated through the 3rd Special Forces Group staff.

Prelude to the dance
This briefing would be the one and only predeployment intelligence briefing we were to receive. For this presentation, the staff had conscientiously avoided using any of the former Haitian nationals that worked and lived in Fayetteville and Fort Bragg. These included a professor of physics at Fayetteville State University, his wife, a Creole instructor at the Special Forces school, and various Haitian-American soldiers on active duty in Fort Bragg.

To ensure that we had a reliable source for this one and only predeployment brief, our intelligence gurus selected an expatriate, white, American, fundamentalist Protestant preacher. This gentleman had occupied himself for the last 11 years, in a small community outside of Cap Haïtien, salvaging the heathen souls of some 300 local congregants. He was an emaciated, blepharitic man, tall and thin, in a black suit, reeking of Calvinist austerity and burning with years of besieged righteousness.

He began his account with a personal introduction and a brief history of his mission. Then came a brief historical account of the nation of Haiti. The account was perfectly informative as long as it confined itself to events, personalities and dates. What followed his synopsis, however, was a bizarre narrative. He flatly declared that the successful Haitian revolution against the French Army was inaugurated with a bargain. Jean Jacques Dessalines, the Haitian leader of the revolution, according to this preacher, had struck a deal with the devil. With complete seriousness, our intrepid young missionary, explained that Satan himself, disguised as a voodoo deity, contracted with Dessalines to assure him a military victory. In exchange for the victory, Satan was to be given control of the new nation for a period of 200 years.

I’m not sure what surprised me the most at that briefing. The outlandish characterization of the first independent black nation in the Western Hemisphere? The fact that an Intelligence Officer on the Group staff had coordinated for his presence? Or the spellbound attention being paid this crackpot by hundreds of allegedly rational grown men who were in the room listening?

The problem was this. Most of the Special Forces soldiers there had no previous interest in Haiti. Most of them harbored cultural and racial preconceptions of Haiti. All had been exposed to the drumbeat of skewed media coverage of Haiti. Many were fans of both the CIA and Jesse Helms, both of whom were staging a concerted venture to shape foreign policy on behalf of the Cedras regime, by fabricating rumors about Aristide. Almost all of them were thoroughly ignorant of both the history of Haiti and the dynamics of the current crisis.

It was easy then, in support of the anti-Aristide sentiment already afoot in the special operations community, for this charlatan to get away with his prevarication. He was positively obsessed with voodoo, which he repeatedly characterized not as a religion (which it is, with components of West African polytheism and Catholicism), but as worship of demons. He stated that Haitians were childlike, and in need of outside direction, morally and spiritually lost, still practicing human sacrifice and cannibalism. The racist echoes were not lost on the largely white Special Forces audience.

Aristide was a particularly hot issue. Aristide was always in the company of voodoo priests and priestesses, he explained, explicitly stating that Aristide’s Christianity was a sham…that Father Aristide, too, was a devil worshipper. Aristide, the minister explained to the audience, was not really a priest, at all. He had been defrocked. This was a sidelong reference to Aristide’s expulsion from his religious order for political action on behalf of the poor. Aristide, also a closet communist, according to our preacher, had personally ordered riots and murders of countless people during his brutal eight month regime. Cedras and Francois showed up just in time to save the country, and any intervention to oust Cedras would be a terrible mistake, not to mention the dangers to young, Christian GIs, of working with HIV-riddled demon worshippers. When questioned about Aristide’s landslide victory in the elections, he said that the election was a fraud perpetrated by Lavalas (the popular movement). He stated that the reports of violence by the Cedras regime were exaggerated. And if they did support Aristide, that demonstrated that they were not yet ready for democracy.

The briefing was only partly inexplicable to me. Many of the mindless prejudices of the briefing would resurface later as official documents, from Intelligence, Psychological Operations, and Civil Affairs. It was part of the attempt to minimize American contact with Haitian realities. It is going on to this day, and it is effective. Now, the bullshit is being disseminated by the United States Embassy. The press laps it up and regurgitates it for us uncritically, awed as always to be allowed so near the powerful. I want to emphatically state that the distortions and prejudices of this one man can not be generalized to any particular group. There are numerous religious groups of many faiths, Protestant included, who have consistently and vigorously supported the Haitians’ rights to self-determination and freedom from violence.

Haitian landing
That said, I entered Port au Prince on the 19th of September, where we were summarily informed, in the wake of the Carter-Nunn-Powell agreement, struck, by the way, in the absence of a single legitimate representative of the democratically-elected government of Haiti, and signed by Emile Jonassaint, the Cedras-installed illegal president, that we would now become the friends, patrons and trainers of the Haitian armed forces, whom I shall refer to as the FAdH. Admittedly, this was during a period of policy confusion, when the Clinton administration couldn’t decide what to do about FAdH soldiers openly clobbering unarmed citizens senseless with ironwood batons in front of CNN’s cameras.

It’s important to note, though long-term objectives in Haiti have become clear, many short-term decisions at that point in time appeared to be typical indecisive bumbling on the part of the Administration. It’s important to remember that Clinton launched the operation under pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus and TransAfrica. These groups were illuminating the gross contradictions between policy toward Haiti and Cuba. By the same token, business interests, represented by Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, whose Madison Avenue public relations firm had a happy and lucrative history of dealings with key Duvalierist elites in Haiti, were strenuously opposing the reinstallation of Aristide.

By the time we escaped from the 10th Mountain Division’s clutches in Port au Prince, a unit that had dauntlessly undertaken to prevent contact between ordinary Haitians and American troops, the guidance had changed. We were instructed to stop all “Haitian on Haitian violence.” Worded this way, we were permitted to interfere with policemen cracking heads, gassing and shooting at anyone they disliked, so long as it was understood that we were protecting the police from civilian violence as well. It was by this bit of verbal legerdemain, that officials managed again to minimize the Haitian military police and paramilitary’s overwhelming share of the mayhem, and to provide support to the prevailing disinformation alleging widespread violence perpetrated by pro-Aristide people.

In a telling analysis of this phenomenon, Catherine Orenstein, anthologized in a highly recommended book called The Haiti Files, edited by James Ridgeway, points out the complete collaboration of the US mainstream press in this gross misrepresentation of Haitian reality. Of the total space devoted to covering Haiti by the popular press, less than 4% was devoted to reporting human rights abuses by the Cedras regime, while it was in power, when between 3,000 and 5,000 people were murdered. Under the Aristide government, human rights violations were reduced by more than 65% in eight months, but no mention of this trend appeared in the New York Times or on CNN. The Times, in the three weeks following the coup devoted three times as much space to allegations of Lavalas violence, by all accounts less than 2% of the total, as it did to massive, ongoing military violence being directed at unarmed civilians. Again, I don’t attribute this to an innate dishonesty on the part of the press, but to their unwavering tendency to truckle around after powerful people and reverently accept everything they say. Reporters who are not good sycophants do not last long in today’s corporate megamedia environment.

Regulating the tropical heat
The question of disarming the paramilitaries was another subject that shifted repeatedly in the conduct of the mission. Before the soft option entry negotiated by the Carter team, military necessity made the question of weapons clear cut. If you carried a firearm, you were hostile. If a weapon were discovered, it was confiscated. But with the permissive entry, the Rules of Engagement stated that we were obliged to behave as police do, demanding that an armed individual relinquish his weapon and giving that individual an opportunity to do so, before employing deadly force. This ROE, as it is known, did not present a great problem. It was the question of seeking out and confiscating weapons that changed.

By the time my detachment arrived in Gonaïves, en route to Fort Liberte, planned searches for weapons caches were put on indefinite hold by Task Force commanders. No reason was ever given. Though we still had the authority to confiscate displayed weapons, we were prohibited from searching buildings and houses, even if we received multiple reports alleging their presence. That prohibition against searches for the purpose of confiscating firearms and other ordnance remains in effect to the end. The eventual justification was that Haitians had a constitutional right to own firearms…even though we were an extraconstitutional force. This would not be the first time that we were subjected to selective interpretations of the Haitian Constitution. And what it ignored was the practical fact, that nearly every weapon in the country was owned by a supporter of the de facto regime, this being the means by which they had retained their power.

By itself, this shift could be interpreted as an error in judgment, which it certainly would be, but other facts on the ground tend to support the thesis that it was part of an overall effort to achieve a specific circumstance. When we left the intrepid 10th Mountain Division in Port au Prince, they had begun fanning out, not into the slums where human rights violations continued to be reported, but to protect the property of the rich in Petionville from anticipated angry mobs who never materialized. The task force set up its headquarters on the factory complex of the second richest family in Haiti.

In Gonaïves, where a series of incidents had strained our relationship with the FAdH, and endeared us to the local population (an eventuality not anticipated by the Task Force commanders), we were obligated to work with a Haitian commander named Captain Castra, originally on our “detain immediately” list as a dangerous and seedy character, a known drug trafficker, and the originator of a massacre of 27 civilians in the slum of Raboteau just three months earlier. He and hundreds of other charming members of the armed forces had been miraculously rehabilitated by the stroke of a pen.

These encumbrances were temporarily removed when four members of FRAPH, the Haitian paramilitary headed by CIA employee Emmanuel Constant, shot and wounded a Special Forces soldier on the 2nd of October in Les Cayes. Independent of the conventional commanders, special operations commanders sent us the order to squash FRAPH. In my own sector, we made three detentions the first day, two the second, and ten the third when we entered Fort Liberte, including Nyll Calixte, former Haitian ambassador to France, and chief financier to FRAPH in the Northeast Department. On the fourth day after the directive, we detained Rene Mozart, Northeast Department president of FRAPH, subordinate only to Emmanuel Constant.

Calixte was released within 24 hours on a presidential order from the United States, with apologies. Mozart was returned in three weeks, with the admonition that FRAPH was now to be recognized as a legitimate political party, kind of like the loyal opposition. All but one of the original detainees were released. We were told to stop all detentions unless we could provide a laundry list of information and evidence that would have daunted the average FBI agent, citing the need for due process. Our argument that due process implied the presence of a functional police force, a forensics capability, a viable court, and a normally operating government, was viewed as evidence of a smart-assed attitude.

With that, our participation in assisting Haitian justice ground to a halt, accompanied by directives to provide support to propaganda efforts pushing the theme of “reconciliation.” I was accused of failing to cooperate on two occasions with Psychological Operations Teams who wished to broadcast feel-good messages in my sector. These were accurate accusations, but in my own defense, our team had established effective rapport with the local population, predicated on our ongoing credibility and our open association with Lavalas, and broadcasting messages that insulted the intelligence of the local population with the transparency of the missive, stood to undermine that credibility.

Miller Time for Democrats
To understand how fragmented certain aspects of the operations were, it is important to explain that individual Special Forces Teams had a great deal of autonomy, much to the chagrin of a host of micromanaging, anal compulsive, career-obsessed commanders. My team, with only eight people on the initial entry, was responsible for hundreds of square kilometers of territory. For this reason, to this day, attitudes of Haitians in various sectors of the country will be wildly divergent with regard to American military. Some teams moved into FAdH garrisons, emplaced concertina wire, and built what appeared to be a Vietnam style firebase. Our team lived in a house, accessible to all, with neighbors on three sides, who listened to music with us on the porch and dropped by for coffee. We shopped at the local market, and drank an occasional Presidente beer from the little street store down the road. It was not at all unusual to shoo chickens out of the house in the morning.

In fact, the presence of beer, though its consumption by Special Forces was widespread in Haiti, was presented to us as a violation of a General Order in December of that year, and I was asked to leave the country. During the investigation regarding the General Order violation, the subject of beer seemed to preoccupy the investigating officer far less than our cozy relationship with Lavalas, to which I credited the remarkable stability of our sector throughout the operation.

The other subject that came up repeatedly was my failure to support the concept of the Interim Police Security Force, or IPSF. The original concept, briefed to us, was that the new police would be organized from the general population, even allowing certain decent, nonabusive gentlemen (and there were a few) from the original force, to continue employment. This sat well with the locals and with us. We were told to vet current members of the garrisons to determine which police had potential, and which were absolutely unacceptable to the general population. We did this, and were succinctly blown off. Instead of dropping the identified thugs from the rolls, a shell game was implemented, where Haitian police were abruptly reassigned to other towns, far away. We knew it. The Haitians knew it. Officialdom never acknowledged it. If I were attracted to conspiracy theories, I might have thought that someone was trying to protect the Haitian military from future legal action by removing them from places where they perchance would be deposed against.

The ostensible military action to restore democracy was launched on the heels of a bargain made with an outgoing military dictator and a phony president. The US military wasted no time setting up their headquarters on the industrial property of the Mev family, first stringers with the ultrarich, ruling elite. The operation advanced at a glacial pace, with emphasis placed on establishing security around the property of the wealthy. Soldiers were admonished not to take aggressive action to round up known criminals, not to search for weapons, and to observe a kind of “due process” in the treatment of former henchmen. US soldiers were given guidelines for detention so stringent that by the 5th of October, 1994, virtually all detentions had ceased. De facto government persecutors so notorious they were on “detain immediately” lists before the Carter-Nunn-Powell deal was cut, were allowed to continue in their present capacities, sometimes with US cooperation. Weapons buyback programs were implemented which allowed unserviceable weapons to be exchanged for money, while the serviceable ones were carefully cached for future use. In my own sector, dozens of reports came to us of large quantities of weapons being packed across the Dominican border, where many de facto criminals were being given sanctuary. The former military were dressed up in new uniforms, after a cosmetic vetting of past activities, and put back on the street with an apprehensive public who continually told American military authorities that this was an unacceptable arrangement. UN/US military policy stressed a “balanced” approach to dealing with Haitians, defining balance as “walking a line” between Lavalas, who represented the overwhelming majority of Haitians, and FRAPH, a terrorist organization working for the elite.

While there is no doubt that without intervention, the Cedras regime would have continued indefinitely, the best thing that could happen in Haiti at this moment would be the discontinuation of American, IMF, and World Bank influence. But, as always with both Democratic and Republican administrations, corporate wishes will prevail in the long term. The greatest miscalculation that the Haitian people can count on now, is the foolish but persistent belief that being illiterate means one is stupid.

Every Haitian has heard the old proverb… ‘You can send a snake to school but it’s hard to make him sit down.”

EARTHQUAKE PENTECOSTAL“biblical”_disaster:_understanding_religion_in_haiti/
“Biblical” Disaster: Understanding Religion in Haiti
BY Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado / January 13, 2010

Note to Pat Robertson: Haiti is not a nation of Vodou practitioners. It is, and continues to be, overwhelmingly Christian. Yesterday morning as I settled onto my elliptical at the gym, I anxiously turned to the television silently playing captioned CNN. It was before sunrise, and I knew it would be a good thirty minutes before daylight would reveal the devastation the 7.0 earthquake had unleashed on Haiti. The man on the neighboring machine, also watching the television, turned to me and said, “You know they killed all the white people after they gained independence … it is that Vodou … they deserve it.” I pedaled along speechless, not sure what shocked me more, that this man would think these things or that he felt comfortable enough with his hatred that he was fairly confident I would agree. I ignored him and I wish I had not. What I wanted to say is that Vodou is not some sort of sorcery, or the product of some “pact to the devil” (thank you Pat Robertson). I also wanted to correct his erroneous assumption that Haiti is a nation of Vodou practitioners. It is, and continues to be, overwhelmingly Christian.

I confess that I have been fairly glued to CNN in the past twenty-four hours, and two things have struck me as I watched the constant onslaught of images of suffering and destruction. The first is the erroneous fact that CNN keeps claiming on its ticker that Haiti is 80% Roman Catholic. The second is the sheer amount of U.S. missionaries on the island. The two are inter-related. Recent studies estimate that the Protestant population of Haiti is somewhere around thirty percent. In Port-au-Prince that number jumps to almost forty percent. The majority of these churches are Pentecostal. These churches are overwhelmingly independent, indigenous Haitian entities, though some are linked to North American denominational Pentecostal churches. Haiti, along with Jamaica and Puerto Rico, is home to one of the fastest growing Pentecostal populations in the Caribbean.

As I watch the drama unfold in Haiti, and feel it here in Miami, the home of the largest Haitian Diaspora in the United States, I cannot help but think of another earthquake, another country. In 1976 a 7.5 earthquake devastated Guatemala, leaving 23,000 dead and over 50,000 injured. My husband, a child at the time, has told me of the silence, the fear that followed this catastrophe. As a scholar of religion, I have often wondered of the theological impact of this natural disaster.

Thankfully, the scholarship of Virginia Garrard-Burnett provides some answers. She correlates the explosion of Pentecostalism in Guatemala, who like Haiti, is an epicenter of Pentecostalism in the Americas, in part as a response to the earthquake. An overwhelmingly high percentage of Guatemalans saw the earthquake as a form of divine punishment and a call for repentance. Arriving in the guise of aid and relief, Protestantism provided an alternative way of being Christian. Yet Pentecostalism primarily emerged in Guatemala, as it did in Haiti, disconnected from North American denominations. Indigenous Pentecostalism, with its apocalyptic theology, also gained momentum among Indigenous Guatemalans.

Haiti had barely recovered from the four devastating storms of 2008 prior to this earthquake. The Roman Catholic Cathedral in Port-au-Prince has collapsed, and Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot’s lifeless body was pulled from the ruins of the diocesan offices. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described the natural disasters that this nation has endured as “biblical” in nature. “It is biblical, the tragedy that continues to stalk Haiti and the Haitian people.” Clinton does not realize that her comments would strike a chord with many Haitians today. Haitian Pentecostals, with their biblical literalism and their certainty that the second coming of Jesus is imminent, could see this time of tribulation as a challenge where the faithful will be rewarded on judgment day. Religion will surely play a role in the manner in which Haitians make sense of this tragedy, and I suspect we will find growing numbers of Pentecostal converts as Haitians attempt to find meaning in what can only be described as senseless and inexplicable suffering.




“The whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima are unknown. Human Rights organizations claim that he and his family continue to be political prisoners, and has termed him the “youngest political prisoner in the world”.[9][10] According to Chinese government claims, he is attending school and leading a normal life somewhere in China.[11] This cannot be verified by outside sources as no credible evidence has been provided to confirm or deny these claims.[11] The reason this evidence has been withheld, according to statements by Chinese authorities, is that his whereabouts are kept undisclosed to protect him[12]. Those who support Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama call upon China’s ruling party to prove that he is safe and happy.[13] As the promises of a regime well-known for widespread use of censorship[14] and propaganda[15] are rejected by vocal organizations such as the UNPO and Tibetan government in Exile, his supporters fear that he has been imprisoned or executed.[13]

The Committee of the Rights of the Child of the United Nations reviewed the Gedhun case on May 28, 1996. During hearings on the matter, Chinese authorities claimed for the first time to have “taken the child for his security”[16]. The Committee requested a visit with Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, supported by a campaign of more than 400 celebrities and associations petitioning for the visit, including eleven Nobel Prize winners.[17] These Nobel laureates included Günter Blobel, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Christian de Duve, Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, Roger Guillemin, Dudley Robert Herschbach, François Jacob, Eric R. Kandel, Jean-Marie Lehn, Norman Foster Ramsey and David Trimble.

In May 2007, Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief of the UN Human Rights Council, asked the Chinese authorities what measures they had taken to implement the recommendation of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, that the government should allow an independent expert to visit and confirm the well-being of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima while respecting his right to privacy, and that of his parents. In a response dated 17 July 2007, the Chinese authorities said: “Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is a perfectly ordinary Tibetan boy, in an excellent state of health, leading a normal, happy life and receiving a good education and cultural upbringing. He is currently in upper secondary school, he measures 1 m 65 cm in height and is easy-going by nature. He studies hard and his school results are very good. He likes Chinese traditional culture and has recently taken up calligraphy. His parents are both State employees, and his brothers and sisters are either already working or at university. The allegation that he disappeared together with his parents and that his whereabouts remain unknown is simply not true.” This response did not answer the question about a visit or confirmation.[18]”

“The Panchen Lama is the second highest ranking Lama after the Dalai Lama in the Gelugpa (Dge-lugs-pa) sect of Tibetan Buddhism (the sect which controlled Tibet from the 16th century until the Seventeen Point Agreement). The successive Panchen lamas form a tulku reincarnation lineage which are said to be the incarnations of Amitabha Buddha. The name, meaning “great scholar”, is a Tibetan contraction of the Sanskrit paṇḍita (scholar) and the Tibetan chenpo (great). The true present (11th) incarnation of the Panchen Lama is being held prisoner by the Chinese government in 1995 and as of 2008 has not been seen in public.”

Tibet’s Panchen Lama, Beijing’s propaganda tool / 3.28.09

Beijing (AFP) — China’s controversial choice as the second highest Tibetan spiritual figure is increasingly being used by Beijing as a tool in its propaganda offensive against the exiled Dalai Lama, say experts. Rarely seen in public previously, but believed to have been educated in the Chinese capital, the 19-year-old Panchen Lama Friday expressed loyalty to Beijing, in stark contrast to the views of the Tibetan spiritual leader. “For a long time the Dalai’s separatist clique has ignore the success of Tibet’s development, plotted and planned to ruin Tibet’s social stability and wantonly attacked the policies of the central government,” he said, referring to the Dalai Lama’s exiled Tibetan administration.

The comments made in an interview with China Central Television came as he attended a symposium marking the 50th anniversary of what is officially called “the end of serfdom in Tibet” held at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. “Old Tibet was a theocratic feudal serf society, the ruling class, nobility and clergy rode on the backs of the people and exploited and persecuted them,” he said in the interview. On Saturday, China will, for the first time, celebrate the end of Tibetan “feudalism,” a day that coincides with the quelling of an anti-Chinese uprising in the Himalayan region 50 years ago.

The Panchen Lama is also scheduled to appear at the opening of the Second World Buddhist Forum in eastern China’s Wuxi city on Saturday, according to state press reports. During the last forum two years ago, the young monk with an almond-shaped face and small round glasses made his first public appearance, more than 10 years after his controversial enthronement.

Earlier this month, the Dalai Lama, exiled from his homeland for 50 years, accused China of having transformed Tibet into “a hell on earth” and of killing hundreds of thousands of Tibetans during its rule. But in an essay that appeared in the communist mouthpiece the People’s Daily on Monday, the Panchen Lama expressed full loyalty to the atheist ruling party. “Facts show that it is only under the leadership of the Communist Party of China that Tibet can enjoy its current prosperity and an even better future,” he wrote.

Born Gyaincain Norbu, the controversial figure was enthroned as the 11th Panchen Lama in a 1995 ceremony overseen by the Communist Party, which had rejected a boy selected by the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama’s choice, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, immediately disappeared from public view and is believed to have been under a form of house arrest ever since.

The 10th Panchen Lama died in 1989 after a tumultuous relationship with China’s communist leaders that alternated between prison and relative freedom. But even if the new Panchen Lama becomes more high-profile in China, that does not mean he is accepted as a spiritual leader by Tibetans, according to Tibetan scholars outside of China.

In Tibetan temples, it is rare to see images or photographs of him, while those of his predecessor are common. “He is a piece of propaganda. He is being used by the Beijing government,” said Samten G. Karmay, the Paris-based former head of the Association of International Tibetan Studies. “The Tibetan population does not recognise him, especially as he is saying the things that fall in with the Communist Party line.”

Although both the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama belong to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, differences between them have existed historically and the communists are not the first to try to take advantage of this, Karmay said. In the 19th century, the Qing Dynasty tried to play on the antagonism by attempting to make the Panchen Lama an ally.

Beijing’s manipulation of the selection of the Panchen Lama in 1995 could be a sign of what will happen after the death of the current Dalai Lama. “The Chinese government will try to name someone, but China will have a problem with legitimacy,” said Tsering Shakya, a leading Tibetan historian at the University of British Columbia. “It is certain that 100 percent of Tibetans will not recognise a child chosen by China as the Dalai Lama. But that won’t matter to Beijing. For the Chinese it is only a question of showing their power.”

China Regulates Buddhist Reincarnation
BY Matthew Philips  /  Aug. 27, 2007

In one of history’s more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is “an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation.” But beyond the irony lies China’s true motive: to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual and political leader, and to quell the region’s Buddhist religious establishment more than 50 years after China invaded the small Himalayan country. By barring any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation, the law effectively gives Chinese authorities the power to choose the next Dalai Lama, whose soul, by tradition, is reborn as a new human to continue the work of relieving suffering.

At 72, the Dalai Lama, who has lived in India since 1959, is beginning to plan his succession, saying that he refuses to be reborn in Tibet so long as it’s under Chinese control. Assuming he’s able to master the feat of controlling his rebirth, as Dalai Lamas supposedly have for the last 600 years, the situation is shaping up in which there could be two Dalai Lamas: one picked by the Chinese government, the other by Buddhist monks. “It will be a very hot issue,” says Paul Harrison, a Buddhism scholar at Stanford. “The Dalai Lama has been the prime symbol of unity and national identity in Tibet, and so it’s quite likely the battle for his incarnation will be a lot more important than the others.”

So where in the world will the next Dalai Lama be born? Harrison and other Buddhism scholars agree that it will likely be from within the 130,000 Tibetan exiles spread throughout India, Europe and North America. With an estimated 8,000 Tibetans living in the United States, could the next Dalai Lama be American-born? “You’ll have to ask him,” says Harrison. If so, he’ll likely be welcomed into a culture that has increasingly embraced reincarnation over the years. According to a 2005 Gallup poll, 20 percent of all U.S. adults believe in reincarnation. Recent surveys by the Barna Group, a Christian research nonprofit, have found that a quarter of U.S. Christians, including 10 percent of all born-again Christians, embrace it as their favored end-of-life view. A non-Tibetan Dalai Lama, experts say, is probably out of the question.

China tells living Buddhas to obtain permission before they reincarnate
BY Jane Macartney  /  August 4, 2007

Tibet’s living Buddhas have been banned from reincarnation without permission from China’s atheist leaders. The ban is included in new rules intended to assert Beijing’s authority over Tibet’s restive and deeply Buddhist people. “The so-called reincarnated living Buddha without government approval is illegal and invalid,” according to the order, which comes into effect on September 1.

The 14-part regulation issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs is aimed at limiting the influence of Tibet’s exiled god-king, the Dalai Lama, and at preventing the re-incarnation of the 72-year-old monk without approval from Beijing. It is the latest in a series of measures by the Communist authorities to tighten their grip over Tibet. Reincarnate lamas, known as tulkus, often lead religious communities and oversee the training of monks, giving them enormous influence over religious life in the Himalayan region. Anyone outside China is banned from taking part in the process of seeking and recognising a living Buddha, effectively excluding the Dalai Lama, who traditionally can play an important role in giving recognition to candidate reincarnates.

For the first time China has given the Government the power to ensure that no new living Buddha can be identified, sounding a possible death knell to a mystical system that dates back at least as far as the 12th century. China already insists that only the Government can approve the appointments of Tibet’s two most important monks, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. The Dalai Lama’s announcement in May 1995 that a search inside Tibet – and with the co- operation of a prominent abbot – had identified the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, who died in 1989, enraged Beijing. That prompted the Communist authorities to restart the search and to send a senior Politburo member to Lhasa to oversee the final choice. This resulted in top Communist officials presiding over a ceremony at the main Jokhang temple in Lhasa in which names of three boys inscribed on ivory sticks were placed inside a golden urn and a lot was then drawn to find the true reincarnation.

The boy chosen by the Dalai Lama has disappeared. The abbot who worked with the Dalai Lama was jailed and has since vanished. Several sets of rules on seeking out “soul boys” were promulgated in 1995, but were effectively in abeyance and hundreds of living Buddhas are now believed to live inside and outside China.

All Tibetans believe in reincarnation, but only the holiest or most outstanding individuals are believed to be recognisable – a tulku, or apparent body. One Tibetan monk told The Times: “In the past there was no such regulation. The management of living Buddhas is becoming more strict.” The search for a reincarnation is a mystical process involving clues left by the deceased and visions among leading monks on where to look. The current Dalai Lama, the fourteenth of the line, was identified in 1937 when monks came to his village. China has long insisted that it must have the final say over the appointment of the most senior lamas. Tibet experts said that the new regulations may also be aimed at limiting the influence of new lamas.


Tibet’s missing spiritual guide / 16 May 2005

A decade ago, a six-year-old boy was named by the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was nominated as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama – the second-most important figure in Tibetan religion, culture and politics after the Dalai Lama himself. But China disagreed with the choice and arrested the boy a few days later. Mystery surrounds his fate and outside China he is known as one of the world’s youngest political prisoners. China installed their own boy, Gyaincain Norbu, as the true 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama.

‘Protective custody’
Campaigners say the child chosen by the Dalai Lama is held under house arrest somewhere in China, but details remain unknown. Tibet’s exiled leaders refuse to accept China’s choice and call for Gedhun Choekyi Nyima to be released. Historian Tsering Shakya of Oxford University said: “He virtually disappeared and the Chinese government took him under what they call protective custody.” Most Tibetans, experts say, wholeheartedly rejected the Chinese-chosen Panchen Lama. Arjia Rinpoche, the abbot of Tibet’s important Kumbum monastery now living in exile in the US, said the Dalai Lama’s choice held sway with Tibetans. “The Communist government still wants to promote their version of the Panchen Lama but 90% of the Tibetan people, they don’t believe,” he said.

Dalai Lama rival steps into spotlight
By Michael Bristow / 2009/03/31

China has pushed a young bespectacled monk into the spotlight in an effort to show that it governs Tibet with a benign hand. Officials have launched a vigorous propaganda battle over recent weeks, to demonstrate that Tibetans are thriving under Beijing’s direction.

And the man China selected as its Panchen Lama, the second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism, has been at the forefront of that campaign. Although he is only 19, the Panchen Lama has already stepped onto the public stage to praise the Chinese Communist Party.

Tibet expert Professor Robert Barnett, of New York’s Columbia University, says this is part of China’s efforts to undermine the appeal of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism. “He will never really replace the Dalai Lama, but his role confuses the picture and can gradually be used to weaken the Dalai Lama’s standing,” he said. “I think [China’s] Panchen Lama is being built up very gradually as a public spokesman within the Tibetan Buddhist world.”

Lavish praise
The Dalai Lama’s choice of Panchen Lama – a young boy called Gedhun Choekyi Nyima – was rejected by China, and disappeared soon afterwards. China’s choice, Gyaincain Norbu, has been largely kept from public view since his appointment at the age of five. But now officials are keen for the world to hear about a young man they depict as a diligent student who loves horse riding and jogging. Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on Tuesday that China hoped he would help maintain the country’s “territorial integrity”.

The Panchen Lama has made three high-profile forays into the spotlight over the last few weeks to coincide with Serfs’ Emancipation Day last Saturday. This is a new holiday introduced by China to mark the day on which the Dalai Lama’s rule in Tibet was officially dissolved – a day China celebrates as the start of the liberation of ordinary Tibetans.

The Panchen Lama first visited an exhibition in Beijing showing the economic and social progress China says has taken place in Tibet over the last 50 years. He also penned an article that appeared in the state-controlled People’s Daily, one of China’s most important news outlets. In the article he lavished praise on the Communist Party, which he said had brought prosperity to Tibet. “[We should] uphold the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and contribute more to national unity and the happiness of Tibetan people,” he wrote.

And just a few days ago the monk gave a speech at the Second World Buddhist Forum in China’s Jiangsu Province. Although the forum was about religion, the Panchen Lama’s speech – delivered in English – had an overtly political message. “This forum is convened in my country – China,” he said, suggesting that he does not support Tibetan independence. “This event fully demonstrates that today’s China enjoys social harmony, stability and religious freedom,” he went on. It was a rebuke to Tibetan exiles, including the Dalai Lama, who insist that China’s rule in Tibet over the last 50 years has been repressive.

Great hopes
China has made great play of its Panchen Lama’s public appearances. State-controlled Xinhua news agency published a report on the forum speech under the headline: “Panchen Lama says China enjoys religious freedom.” There was also a hint in the report of just how much China hopes this monk will be able to act as its public face on Tibetan issues. “We disciples of Tibetan Buddhism pin great hopes on him,” Xinhua quoted Jalsan, president of the Buddhist Association of Inner Mongolia, as saying. Previously, little was known about China’s Panchen Lama and how he lived his life, which has been spent largely in Beijing.

But on Tuesday Xinhua published an in-depth interview with him, revealing a host of personal details. The man Xinhua described as “elegant” said he spent most of his time studying Buddhism. But there is time for relaxation. “About 5% of my time [is] spent on entertainment, such as reading newspapers, books and sports,” he told Xinhua. “I read all kinds of books, but I like historical books most. I also read some fiction and essays in Tibetan and Chinese.”

But there was no mention in the article of the other Panchen Lama, chosen by the Dalai Lama in 1995. Two years ago, an official from the Tibetan Autonomous Region told the BBC that this Panchen Lama was living a quiet life in Lhasa, although many Tibetans say he is a political prisoner.

China says vanished Panchen Lama ‘happy’ / 12 November, 2002

A boy recognised by the Dalai Lama as the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism and then placed under house arrest by China is “very happy”, a Chinese Government official has said. The 13-year-old boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, has been named the world’s youngest political prisoner by human rights groups. The boy has been detained since 1995, after the Dalai Lama confirmed him as the next reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibet’s second highest ranking religious official. China has named another boy in his place, and this boy – Gyancain Norbu – was pictured by state media attending the on-going Communist Party Congress in Beijing.

The exact whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima are secret. “He is 1.6 meters (5 ft 3 in) tall and weighs 65 kilos (144 pounds),” said Raidi, head of Tibet’s parliament.

Important role
The Beijing-appointed head of Tibet’s parliament said the boy was living with his family in Tibet. “He is living a very happy life,” said Raidi, who uses only one name. “He studies well at school. His parents and entire family are happy.” Raidi said the Dalai Lama’s choice was “totally null and void” and “without authorisation and arbitrary”. Tibet’s exiled leaders refuse to accept the legitimacy of China’s choice and have called for the release of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. Correspondents say one reason why the Panchen Lama is so crucial in Tibetan religion – and in Chinese-Tibetan relations – is the fact that he is charged with selecting the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and now lives in exile in Dharmsala, India.



ASK HH,00000001358,0,0,1,0
There may not be another Dalai Lama
BY Vir Sanghvi  /  June 20, 2005

New Delhi, India — Will there ever be another Dalai Lama? Traditionally, the spiritual leadership of the Tibetan people passes from one Dalai Lama to his reincarnation. But the current Dalai Lama has raised questions about whether the institution should continue. He may, he says, be the last Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama
In 2001, the Dalai Lama declared that if the Tibetan people had an elected political leadership, then the institution of the Dalai Lama would no longer be relevant. He would be happy, he said, to live in semi-retirement, and let the institution die with him.

Now, that position has been refined slightly. “If I was to die in the next few months or before we were able to return to Tibet,” the Dalai Lama told the Hindustan Times, “there will be a new Dalai Lama. But,” he added, “if we cease to be a refugee community and can live in democratic Tibet, then I don’t think there should be a successor to me after I die.”

In the event of the Dalai Lama passing on before Beijing yields on Tibetan autonomy, the new Dalai Lama will be chosen by searching for the reincarnation of the current incumbent. But the Dalai Lama admits to having doubts about the traditional approach to searching for a reincarnation of a dead Lama. He concedes that some ‘reincarnations’ have “not been true,” and says that even in his own case, he is not the reincarnation of the last Dalai Lama.

He thinks that he is a reincarnation of some spiritual leader, perhaps the fifth Dalai Lama, because when he was younger, he had vivid dreams about his past life. “Moreover,” he says, “even though I was a very lazy boy, I always knew as much as my tutors on such subjects as Buddhist philosophy. That can only be explained if I had a past life memory.”

He concedes also that his predecessor as Dalai Lama had left detailed instructions about where to find his reincarnation, a search that led to the discovery of the current Dalai Lama.  But, he argues, this doesn’t mean that he is a reincarnation of the last Dalai Lama. “Perhaps my predecessor hired me to do the job,” he laughs. In his view, Dalai Lamas are not always reincarnated in sequence so it is not necessary that the next Dalai Lama will be his own reincarnation.

But does he know where the next Dalai Lama will be born, just as his predecessor knew about him? No, he says, he has no idea. But when the time comes for him to die and if he is still in Dharamsala, then he will know.

H.H. the Dalai Lama Says A Free, Democratic Tibet Wouldn’t Need A God-King

NEW DELHI – The supreme religious post of the Dalai Lama should be abolished if Tibet became autonomous and democratic, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said in an interview published here. “If I were to die in the next few months or before we were able to return to Tibet, there will be a new Dalai Lama,” the 69-year-old spiritual leader was quoted as telling the Hindustan Times newspaper on Tuesday. “But if we cease to be a refugee community and live in democratic Tibet, then I don’t think there should be a successor to me after I die,” he reportedly said.

His comments came as thousands of Tibetans prepare to celebrate his 70th birthday next month in north India, where the spiritual leader based himself after fleeing his homeland in 1959 when China crushed a Tibetan uprising. The office of the Dalai Lama was founded in the 15th century, and two centuries later the fifth holder of the post departed from his purely religious role to unite Tibet politically, assuming temporal as well as spiritual powers.

A successor to the Dalai Lama is chosen by searching for the reincarnation of the incumbent, but the spiritual leader in the interview questioned the age-old ritual, arguing the complex search for successors was flawed.

Born Lhamo Dhondrub on July 6, 1935 the Dalai Lama was discovered as the 14th incarnation of Tibetan Buddhism’s supreme religious leader as a toddler and enthroned at the age of four on February 22, 1940, in Lhasa. “Some reincarnations have not been true,” the Dalai Lama told the English-language daily, but he added that he was certain he was the incarnate of the fifth incumbent who held the post for 67 years after being named the Dalai Lama in 1617.

He said he had had vivid dreams of a past life as a boy. “Moreover, even though I was a very lazy boy, I always knew as much as my tutors on such subjects as Buddhist philosophy,” he said. “That can only be explained if I had a past life memory,” he said, arguing that he was not the reincarnation of his immediate predecessor.

The Dalai Lama, awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for his dedication to Tibet’s non-violent liberation, has given up his original demands for his homeland’s independence and instead talks of a “meaningful autonomy” to preserve Tibet’s culture, language and environment.

During Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to New Delhi in April, India recognised Tibet as part of China and pledged not to allow its territory to be used for anti-China political activities. In return Beijing accepted Sikkim, a tiny Himalayan sliver reaching into Tibet, as Indian territory.

The Dalai Lama said he had no major disagreement with India over its decision, saying his concerns were more about Tibetan autonomy than Chinese sovereignty. In the wide-ranging interview, the Dalai Lama accused China of wiping out all traces of Tibetan culture and flooding the region with immigrants, saying that in most cities now “Tibetans have been reduced to a minority”.

He conceded, however, that China had made remarkable economic progress — “almost a miracle” — and that Tibet could gain from the country’s growing prosperity if it were granted full autonomy and democracy. “Today, when the whole world is coming together, I am not saying that we want to separate,” he said. “We only want to preserve our culture and live in a democratic society. By opposing us, it is the Chinese who are being splittist.”

India has played host to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile since the spiritual leader fled Tibet disguised as a soldier in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. There now are more than 200,000 Tibetan refugees living in India by official count.


“The Qianlong Emperor was a successful military leader, presiding over a huge consolidation in the territory controlled by the Qing dynasty. The Qing also dominated Outer Mongolia after inflicting a final defeat on the Western Mongols. Throughout this period there were continued Mongol interventions in Tibet and a reciprocal spread of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia. Qianlong again sent armies into Tibet and firmly established the Dalai Lama as ruler, with a Qing resident and garrison to preserve Chinese suzerainty. Further afield, military campaigns against the Burmese, Nepalese, and Gurkhas forced these peoples to submit and send tribute.”

“The death of the fifth Dalai Lama was kept hidden for 15 years, by his prime minister and possible son Desi Sangay Gyatso in order that the Potala Palace could be finished and Tibet’s neighbors not take advantage of an interregnum in the succession of the Dalai Lamas. Desi Sangay Gyatso also served as regent until the assumption of power by the Sixth Dalai Lama.”

Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth
BY Michael Parenti  /  July 7, 2003

Throughout the ages there has prevailed a distressing symbiosis between religion and violence. The histories of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam are heavily laced with internecine vendettas, inquisitions, and wars. Again and again, religionists have claimed a divine mandate to terrorize and massacre heretics, infidels, and other sinners.

Some people have argued that Buddhism is different, that it stands in marked contrast to the chronic violence of other religions. But a glance at history reveals that Buddhist organizations throughout the centuries have not been free of the violent pursuits so characteristic of other religious groups. (1) In the twentieth century alone, from Thailand to Burma to Korea to Japan, Buddhists have clashed with each other and with nonBuddhists. In Sri Lanka, huge battles in the name of Buddhism are part of Sinhalese history. (2)

Just a few years ago in South Korea, thousands of monks of the Chogye Buddhist order—reputedly devoted to a meditative search for spiritual enlightenment—fought each other with fists, rocks, fire-bombs, and clubs, in pitched battles that went on for weeks. They were vying for control of the order, the largest in South Korea, with its annual budget of $9.2 million, its additional millions of dollars in property, and the privilege of appointing 1,700 monks to various duties. The brawls left dozens of monks injured, some seriously. (3)

But many present-day Buddhists in the United States would argue that none of this applies to the Dalai Lama and the Tibet he presided over before the Chinese crackdown in 1959. The Dalai Lama’s Tibet, they believe, was a spiritually oriented kingdom, free from the egotistical lifestyles, empty materialism, pointless pursuits, and corrupting vices that beset modern industrialized society. Western news media, and a slew of travel books, novels, and Hollywood films have portrayed the Tibetan theocracy as a veritable Shangri-La and the Dalai Lama as a wise saint, “the greatest living human,” as actor Richard Gere gushed. (4)

The Dalai Lama himself lent support to this idealized image of Tibet with statements such as: “Tibetan civilization has a long and rich history. The pervasive influence of Buddhism and the rigors of life amid the wide open spaces of an unspoiled environment resulted in a society dedicated to peace and harmony. We enjoyed freedom and contentment.” (5) In fact, Tibet’s history reads a little differently. In the thirteenth century, Emperor Kublai Khan created the first Grand Lama, who was to preside over all the other lamas as might a pope over his bishops. Several centuries later, the Emperor of China sent an army into Tibet to support the Grand Lama, an ambitious 25-year-old man, who then gave himself the title of Dalai (Ocean) Lama, ruler of all Tibet. Here is a historical irony: the first Dalai Lama was installed by a Chinese army.

To elevate his authority beyond worldly challenge, the first Dalai Lama seized monasteries that did not belong to his sect, and is believed to have destroyed Buddhist writings that conflicted with his claim to divinity. (6) The Dalai Lama who succeeded him pursued a sybaritic life, enjoying many mistresses, partying with friends, writing erotic poetry, and acting in other ways that might seem unfitting for an incarnate deity. For this he was “disappeared” by his priests. Within 170 years, despite their recognized status as gods, five Dalai Lamas were murdered by their enlightened nonviolent Buddhist courtiers. (7)

Shangri-La (for Lords and Lamas)
Religions have had a close relationship not only to violence but to economic exploitation. Indeed, it is often the economic exploitation that necessitates the violence. Such was the case with the Tibetan theocracy. Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into religious or secular manorial estates worked by serfs. Even a writer like Pradyumna Karan, sympathetic to the old order, admits that “a great deal of real estate belonged to the monasteries, and most of them amassed great riches. . . . In addition, individual monks and lamas were able to accumulate great wealth through active participation in trade, commerce, and money lending.” (8) Drepung monastery was one of the biggest landowners in the world, with its 185 manors, 25,000 serfs, 300 great pastures, and 16,000 herdsmen. The wealth of the monasteries went to the higher-ranking lamas, many of them scions of aristocratic families, while most of the lower clergy were as poor as the peasant class from which they sprang. This class-determined economic inequality within the Tibetan clergy closely parallels that of the Christian clergy in medieval Europe.

Along with the upper clergy, secular leaders did well. A notable example was the commander-in-chief of the Tibetan army, who owned 4,000 square kilometers of land and 3,500 serfs. He also was a member of the Dalai Lama’s lay Cabinet. (9) Old Tibet has been misrepresented by some of its Western admirers as “a nation that required no police force because its people voluntarily observed the laws of karma.” (10) In fact. it had a professional army, albeit a small one, that served as a gendarmerie for the landlords to keep order and catch runaway serfs. (11)

Young Tibetan boys were regularly taken from their families and brought into the monasteries to be trained as monks. Once there, they became bonded for life. Tashì-Tsering, a monk, reports that it was common practice for peasant children to be sexually mistreated in the monasteries. He himself was a victim of repeated childhood rape not long after he was taken into the monastery at age nine. (12) The monastic estates also conscripted peasant children for lifelong servitude as domestics, dance performers, and soldiers.

In Old Tibet there were small numbers of farmers who subsisted as a kind of free peasantry, and perhaps an additional 10,000 people who composed the “middle-class” families of merchants, shopkeepers, and small traders. Thousands of others were beggars. A small minority were slaves, usually domestic servants, who owned nothing. Their offspring were born into slavery. (13)

In 1953, the greater part of the rural population — some 700,000 of an estimated total population of 1,250,000 — were serfs. Tied to the land, they were allotted only a small parcel to grow their own food. Serfs and other peasants generally went without schooling or medical care. They spent most of their time laboring for the monasteries and individual high-ranking lamas, or for a secular aristocracy that numbered not more than 200 wealthy families. In effect, they were owned by their masters who told them what crops to grow and what animals to raise. They could not get married without the consent of their lord or lama. A serf might easily be separated from his family should the owner send him to work in a distant location. Serfs could be sold by their masters, or subjected to torture and death. (14)

A Tibetan lord would often take his pick of females in the serf population, if we are to believe one 22-year old woman, herself a runaway serf: “All pretty serf girls were usually taken by the owner as house servants and used as he wished.” They “were just slaves without rights.” (15) Serfs needed permission to go anywhere. Landowners had legal authority to capture and forcibly bring back those who tried to flee. A 24-year old runaway serf, interviewed by Anna Louise Strong, welcomed the Chinese intervention as a “liberation.” During his time as a serf he claims he was not much different from a draft animal, subjected to incessant toil, hunger, and cold, unable to read or write, and knowing nothing at all. He tells of his attempts to flee:

The first time [the landlord’s men] caught me running away, I was very small, and they only cuffed me and cursed me. The second time they beat me up. The third time I was already fifteen and they gave me fifty heavy lashes, with two men sitting on me, one on my head and one on my feet. Blood came then from my nose and mouth. The overseer said: “This is only blood from the nose; maybe you take heavier sticks and bring some blood from the brain.” They beat then with heavier sticks and poured alcohol and water with caustic soda on the wounds to make more pain. I passed out for two hours. (16)

In addition to being under a lifetime bond to work the lord’s land — or the monastery’s land — without pay, the serfs were obliged to repair the lord’s houses, transport his crops, and collect his firewood. They were also expected to provide carrying animals and transportation on demand. “It was an efficient system of economic exploitation that guaranteed to the country’s religious and secular elites a permanent and secure labor force to cultivate their land holdings without burdening them either with any direct day-to-day responsibility for the serf’s subsistence and without the need to compete for labor in a market context.” (17)

The common people labored under the twin burdens of the corvée (forced unpaid labor on behalf of the lord) and onerous tithes. They were taxed upon getting married, taxed for the birth of each child, and for every death in the family. They were taxed for planting a new tree in their yard, for keeping domestic or barnyard animals, for owning a flower pot, or putting a bell on an animal. There were taxes for religious festivals, for singing, dancing, drumming, and bell ringing. People were taxed for being sent to prison and upon being released. Even beggars were taxed. Those who could not find work were taxed for being unemployed, and if they traveled to another village in search of work, they paid a passage tax. When people could not pay, the monasteries lent them money at 20 to 50 percent interest. Some debts were handed down from father to son to grandson. Debtors who could not meet their obligations risked being placed into slavery for as long as the monastery demanded, sometimes for the rest of their lives. (18)

The theocracy’s religious teachings buttressed its class order. The poor and afflicted were taught that they had brought their troubles upon themselves because of their foolish and wicked ways in previous lives. Hence they had to accept the misery of their present existence as an atonement and in anticipation that their lot would improve upon being reborn. The rich and powerful of course treated their good fortune as a reward for — and tangible evidence of — virtue in past and present lives.

Torture and Mutilation in Shanghri-La
In the Dalai Lama’s Tibet, torture and mutilation — including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation of arms and legs — were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, runaway serfs, and other “criminals.” Journeying through Tibet in the 1960s, Stuart and Roma Gelder interviewed a former serf, Tsereh Wang Tuei, who had stolen two sheep belonging to a monastery. For this he had both his eyes gouged out and his hand mutilated beyond use. He explains that he no longer is a Buddhist: “When a holy lama told them to blind me I thought there was no good in religion.” (19) Some Western visitors to Old Tibet remarked on the number of amputees to be seen. Since it was against Buddhist teachings to take human life, some offenders were severely lashed and then “left to God” in the freezing night to die. “The parallels between Tibet and medieval Europe are striking,” concludes Tom Grunfeld in his book on Tibet. (20)

Some monasteries had their own private prisons, reports Anna Louise Strong. In 1959, she visited an exhibition of torture equipment that had been used by the Tibetan overlords. There were handcuffs of all sizes, including small ones for children, and instruments for cutting off noses and ears, and breaking off hands. For gouging out eyes, there was a special stone cap with two holes in it that was pressed down over the head so that the eyes bulged out through the holes and could be more readily torn out. There were instruments for slicing off kneecaps and heels, or hamstringing legs. There were hot brands, whips, and special implements for disembowling. (21)

The exhibition presented photographs and testimonies of victims who had been blinded or crippled or suffered amputations for thievery. There was the shepherd whose master owed him a reimbursement in yuan and wheat but refused to pay. So he took one of the master’s cows; for this he had his hands severed. Another herdsman, who opposed having his wife taken from him by his lord, had his hands broken off. There were pictures of Communist activists with noses and upper lips cut off, and a woman who was raped and then had her nose sliced away. (22)

Theocratic despotism had been the rule for generations. An English visitor to Tibet in 1895, Dr. A. L. Waddell, wrote that the Tibetan people were under the “intolerable tyranny of monks” and the devil superstitions they had fashioned to terrorize the people. In 1904 Perceval Landon described the Dalai Lama’s rule as “an engine of oppression” and “a barrier to all human improvement.” At about that time, another English traveler, Captain W.F.T. O’Connor, observed that “the great landowners and the priests . . . exercise each in their own dominion a despotic power from which there is no appeal,” while the people are “oppressed by the most monstrous growth of monasticism and priest-craft the world has ever seen.” Tibetan rulers, like those of Europe during the Middle Ages, “forged innumerable weapons of servitude, invented degrading legends and stimulated a spirit of superstition” among the common people. (23)

In 1937, another visitor, Spencer Chapman, wrote, “The Lamaist monk does not spend his time in ministering to the people or educating them, nor do laymen take part in or even attend the monastery services. The beggar beside the road is nothing to the monk. Knowledge is the jealously guarded prerogative of the monasteries and is used to increase their influence and wealth.” (24)

Occupation and Revolt
The Chinese Communists occupied Tibet in 1951, claiming suzerainty over that country. The 1951 treaty provided for ostensible self- government under the Dalai Lama’s rule but gave China military control and exclusive right to conduct foreign relations. The Chinese were also granted a direct role in internal administration “to promote social reforms.” At first, they moved slowly, relying mostly on persuasion in an attempt to effect change. Among the earliest reforms they wrought was to reduce usurious interest rates, and build some hospitals and roads.

Mao Zedung and his Communist cadres did not simply want to occupy Tibet. They desired the Dalai Lama’s cooperation in transforming Tibet’s feudal economy in accordance with socialist goals. Even Melvyn Goldstein, who is sympathetic to the Dalai Lama and the cause of Tibetan independence, allows that “contrary to popular belief in the West,” the Chinese “pursued a policy of moderation.” They took care “to show respect for Tibetan culture and religion” and “allowed the old feudal and monastic systems to continue unchanged. Between 1951 and 1959, not only was no aristocratic or monastic property confiscated, but feudal lords were permitted to exercise continued judicial authority over their hereditarily bound peasants.” (25) As late as 1957, Mao Zedung was trying to salvage his gradualist policy. He reduced the number of Chinese cadre and troops in Tibet and promised the Dalai Lama in writing that China would not implement land reforms in Tibet for the next six years or even longer if conditions were not yet ripe. (26)

Nevertheless, Chinese rule over Tibet greatly discomforted the lords and lamas. What bothered them most was not that the intruders were Chinese. They had seen Chinese come and go over the centuries and had enjoyed good relations with Generalissimo Chiang Kaishek and his reactionary Kuomintang rule in China. (27) Indeed the approval of the Kuomintang government was needed to validate the choice of the present-day Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. When the young Dalai Lama was installed in Lhasa, it was with an armed escort of Chiang Kaishek’s troops and an attending Chinese minister, in accordance with centuries-old tradition. (28) What really bothered the Tibetan lords and lamas was that these latest Chinese were Communists. It would be only a matter of time, they were sure, before the Communists started imposing their egalitarian and collectivist solutions upon the highly privileged theocracy.

In 1956-57, armed Tibetan bands ambushed convoys of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). The uprising received extensive material support from the CIA, including arms, supplies, and military training for Tibetan commando units. It is a matter of public knowledge that the CIA set up support camps in Nepal, carried out numerous airlifts, and conducted guerrilla operations inside Tibet. (29) Meanwhile in the United States, the American Society for a Free Asia, a CIA front, energetically publicized the cause of Tibetan resistance. The Dalai Lama’s eldest brother, Thubtan Norbu, played an active role in that group.

Many of the Tibetan commandos and agents whom the CIA dropped into the country were chiefs of aristocratic clans or the sons of chiefs. Ninety percent of them were never heard from again, according to a report from the CIA itself. (30) The small and thinly spread PLA garrisons in Tibet could not have captured them all. The PLA must have received support from Tibetans who did not sympathize with the uprising. This suggests that the resistance had a rather narrow base within Tibet. “Many lamas and lay members of the elite and much of the Tibetan army joined the uprising, but in the main the populace did not, assuring its failure,” writes Hugh Deane. (31) In their book on Tibet, Ginsburg and Mathos reach a similar conclusion: “The Tibetan insurgents never succeeded in mustering into their ranks even a large fraction of the population at hand, to say nothing of a majority. As far as can be ascertained, the great bulk of the common people of Lhasa and of the adjoining countryside failed to join in the fighting against the Chinese both when it first began and as it progressed.” (32) Eventually the resistance crumbled.

The Communists Overthrow Feudalism
Whatever wrongs and new oppressions introduced by the Chinese in Tibet after 1959, they did abolish slavery and the serfdom system of unpaid labor. They eliminated the many crushing taxes, started work projects, and greatly reduced unemployment and beggary. They built the only hospitals that exist in the country, and established secular education, thereby breaking the educational monopoly of the monasteries. They constructed running water and electrical systems in Lhasa. They also put an end to floggings, mutilations, and amputations as a form of criminal punishment. (33)

The Chinese also expropriated the landed estates and reorganized the peasants into hundreds of communes. Heinrich Harrer wrote a bestseller about his experiences in Tibet that was made into a popular Hollywood movie. (It was later revealed that Harrer had been a sergeant in Hitler’s SS. (34)) He proudly reports that the Tibetans who resisted the Chinese and “who gallantly defended their independence . . . were predominantly nobles, semi-nobles and lamas; they were punished by being made to perform the lowliest tasks, such as laboring on roads and bridges. They were further humiliated by being made to clean up the city before the tourists arrived.” They also had to live in a camp originally reserved for beggars and vagrants. (35)

By 1961, hundreds of thousands of acres formerly owned by the lords and lamas had been distributed to tenant farmers and landless peasants. In pastoral areas, herds that were once owned by nobility were turned over to collectives of poor shepherds. Improvements were made in the breeding of livestock, and new varieties of vegetables and new strains of wheat and barley were introduced, along with irrigation improvements, leading to an increase in agrarian production. (36)

Many peasants remained as religious as ever, giving alms to the clergy. But people were no longer compelled to pay tributes or make gifts to the monasteries and lords. The many monks who had been conscripted into the religious orders as children were now free to renounce the monastic life, and thousands did, especially the younger ones. The remaining clergy lived on modest government stipends, and extra income earned by officiating at prayer services, weddings, and funerals. (37)

The charges made by the Dalai Lama himself about Chinese mass sterilization and forced deportation of Tibetans have remained unsupported by any evidence. Both the Dalai Lama and his advisor and youngest brother, Tendzin Choegyal, claimed that “more than 1.2
million Tibetans are dead as a result of the Chinese occupation.” (38) No matter how often stated, that figure is puzzling. The official 1953 census — six years before the Chinese crackdown — recorded the entire population of Tibet at 1,274,000. Other estimates varied from one to three million. (39) Later census counts put the ethnic Tibetan population within the country at about two million. If the Chinese killed 1.2 million in the early 1960s then whole cities and huge portions of the countryside, indeed almost all of Tibet, would have been depopulated, transformed into a killing field dotted with death camps and mass graves — of which we have seen no evidence. The Chinese military force in Tibet was not big enough to round up, hunt down, and exterminate that many people even if it had spent all its time doing nothing else.

Chinese authorities do admit to “mistakes” in the past, particularly during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when religious persecution reached a high tide in both China and Tibet. After the uprising in the late 1950s, thousands of Tibetans were incarcerated. During the Great Leap Forward, forced collectivization and grain farming was imposed on the peasantry, sometimes with disastrous effect. In the late 1970s, China began relaxing controls over Tibet “and tried to undo some of the damage wrought during the previous two decades.” (40) In 1980, the Chinese government initiated reforms reportedly designed to grant Tibet a greater degree of self-rule and self-administration. Tibetans would now be allowed to cultivate private plots, sell their harvest surpluses, decide for themselves what crops to grow, and keep yaks and sheep. Communication with the outside world was again permitted, and frontier controls were eased to permit Tibetans to visit exiled relatives in India and Nepal. (41)

Elites, Émigrés, and CIA Money
For the Tibetan upper class lamas and lords, the Communist intervention was a calamity. Most of them fled abroad, as did the Dalai Lama himself, who was assisted in his flight by the CIA. Some discovered to their horror that they would have to work for a living. Those feudal elites who remained in Tibet and decided to cooperate with the new regime faced difficult adjustments.

Consider the following:
In 1959, Anna Louise Strong visited the Central Institute of National Minorities in Beijing which trained various ethnic minorities for the civil service or prepared them for entrance into agricultural and medical schools. Of the 900 Tibetan students attending, most were runaway serfs and slaves. But about 100 were from privileged Tibetan families, sent by their parents so that they might win favorable posts in the new administration. The class divide between these two groups of students was all too evident. As the institute’s director noted:

Those from noble families at first consider that in all ways they are superior. They resent having to carry their own suitcases, make their own beds, look after their own room. This, they think, is the task of slaves; they are insulted because we expect them to do this. Some never accept it but go home; others accept it at last. The serfs at first fear the others and cannot sit at ease in the same room. In the next stage they have less fear but still feel separate and cannot mix. Only after some time and considerable discussion do they reach the stage in which they mix easily as fellow students, criticizing and helping each other. (42)

The émigrés’ plight received fulsome play in the West and substantial support from U.S. agencies dedicated to making the world safe for economic inequality. Throughout the 1960s the Tibetan exile community secretly received $1.7 million a year from the CIA, according to documents released by the State Department in 1998. Once this fact was publicized, the Dalai Lama’s organization itself issued a statement admitting that it had received millions of dollars from the CIA during the 1960s to send armed squads of exiles into Tibet to undermine the Maoist revolution. The Dalai Lama’s annual share was $186,000, making him a paid agent of the CIA. Indian intelligence also financed him and other Tibetan exiles. (43) He has refused to say whether he or his brothers worked with the CIA. The agency has also declined to comment. (44)

While presenting himself as a defender of human rights, and having won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, the Dalai Lama continued to associate with and be advised by aristocratic émigrés and other reactionaries during his exile. In 1995, the Raleigh, N.C. News & Observer carried a frontpage color photograph of the Dalai Lama being embraced by the reactionary Republican senator Jesse Helms, under the headline “Buddhist Captivates Hero of Religious Right.” (45) In April 1999, along with Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and the first George Bush, the Dalai Lama called upon the British government to release Augusto Pinochet, the former fascist dictator of Chile and a longtime CIA client who had been apprehended while visiting England. He urged that Pinochet be allowed to return to his homeland rather than be forced to go to Spain where he was wanted by a Spanish jurist to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Today, mostly through the National Endowment for Democracy and other conduits that are more respectable-sounding than the CIA, the US Congress continues to allocate an annual $2 million to Tibetans in India, with additional millions for “democracy activities” within the Tibetan exile community. The Dalai Lama also gets money from financier George Soros, who now runs the CIA-created Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other institutes. (46)

The Question of Culture
We are told that when the Dalai Lama ruled Tibet, the people lived in contented symbiosis with their monastic and secular lords, in a social order sustained by a deeply spiritual, nonviolent culture. The peasantry’s profound connection to the existing system of sacred belief supposedly gave them a tranquil stability, inspired by humane and pacific religious teachings. One is reminded of the idealized imagery of feudal Europe presented by latter-day conservative Catholics such as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. For them, medieval Christendom was a world of contented peasants living in deep spiritual bond with their Church, under the protection of their lords. (47) The Shangri-La image of Tibet bears no more resemblance to historic reality than does the romanticized image of medieval Europe.

It might be said that we denizens of the modern secular world cannot grasp the equations of happiness and pain, contentment and custom, that characterize more “spiritual” and “traditional” societies. This may be true, and it may explain why some of us idealize such societies. But still, a gouged eye is a gouged eye; a flogging is a flogging; and the grinding exploitation of serfs and slaves is still a brutal class injustice whatever its cultural embellishments. There is a difference between a spiritual bond and human bondage, even when both exist side by side.

To be sure, there is much about the Chinese intervention that is to be deplored. In the 1990s, the Han, the largest ethnic group comprising over 95 percent of China’s vast population, began moving in substantial numbers into Tibet and various western provinces. (48) These resettlements have had an effect on the indigenous cultures of western China and Tibet. On the streets of Lhasa and Shigatse, signs of Chinese preeminence are readily visible. Chinese run the factories and many of the shops and vending stalls. Tall office buildings and large shopping centers have been built with funds that might have been better spent on water treatment plants and housing.

Chinese cadres in Tibet too often adopted a supremacist attitude toward the indigenous population. Some viewed their Tibetan neighbors as backward and lazy, in need of economic development and “patriotic education.” During the 1990s Tibetan government employees suspected of harboring nationalist sympathies were purged from office, and campaigns were launched to discredit the Dalai Lama. Individual Tibetans reportedly were subjected to arrest, imprisonment, and forced labor for attempting to flee the country, and for carrying out separatist activities and engaging in political “subversion.” Some arrestees were held in administrative detention without adequate food, water, and blankets, subjected to threats, beatings, and other mistreatment. (49)

Chinese family planning regulations that allow a three-child limit for Tibetan families have been enforced irregularly and vary by district. If a couple goes over the limit, the excess children can be denied subsidized daycare, health care, housing, and education. Meanwhile, Tibetan history, culture, and religion are slighted in schools. Teaching materials, though translated into Tibetan, focus on Chinese history and culture. (50)

Still, the new order has its supporters. A 1999 story in The Washington Post notes that the Dalai Lama continues to be revered in Tibet, but …few Tibetans would welcome a return of the corrupt aristocratic clans that fled with him in 1959 and that comprise the bulk of his advisers. Many Tibetan farmers, for example, have no interest in surrendering the land they gained during China’s land reform to the clans. Tibet’s former slaves say they, too, don’t want their former masters to return to power.

“I’ve already lived that life once before,” said Wangchuk, a 67-year-old former slave who was wearing his best clothes for his yearly pilgrimage to Shigatse, one of the holiest sites of Tibetan Buddhism. He said he worshipped the Dalai Lama, but added, “I may not be free under Chinese communism, but I am better off than when I was a slave.” (51)

To support the Chinese overthrow of the Dalai Lama’s feudal theocracy is not to applaud everything about Chinese rule in Tibet. This point is seldom understood by today’s Shangri-La adherents in the West. The converse is also true. To denounce the Chinese occupation does not mean we have to romanticize the former feudal régime. One common complaint among Buddhist proselytes in the West is that Tibet’s religious culture is being destroyed by the Chinese authorities. This does seem to be the case. But what I am questioning here is the supposedly admirable and pristinely spiritual nature of that pre-invasion culture. In short, we can advocate religious freedom and independence for Tibet without having to embrace the mythology of a Paradise Lost.

Finally, it should be noted that the criticism posed herein is not intended as a personal attack on the Dalai Lama. He appears to be a nice enough individual, who speaks often of peace, love, and nonviolence. In 1994, in an interview with Melvyn Goldstein, he went on record as having been since his youth in favor of building schools, “machines,” and roads in his country. He claims that he thought the corvée and certain taxes imposed on the peasants “were extremely bad.” And he disliked the way people were saddled with old debts sometimes passed down from generation to generation. (52) Furthermore, he reportedly has established “a government-in-exile” featuring a written constitution, a representative assembly, and other democratic essentials. (53)

Like many erstwhile rulers, the Dalai Lama sounds much better out of power than in power. Keep in mind that it took a Chinese occupation and almost forty years of exile for him to propose democracy for Tibet and to criticize the oppressive feudal autocracy of which he himself was the apotheosis. But his criticism of the old order comes far too late for ordinary Tibetans. Many of them want him back in their country, but it appears that relatively few want a return to the social order he represented.

In a book published in 1996, the Dalai Lama proffered a remarkable statement that must have sent shudders through the exile community. It reads in part as follows:

Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilization of the means of production. It is also concerned with the fate of the working classes- that is the majority — as well as with the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and Marxism cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and it seems fair. . . .

The failure of the regime in the Soviet Union was, for me not the failure of Marxism but the failure of totalitarianism. For this reason I think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist. (54)

And more recently in 2001, while visiting California, he remarked that “Tibet, materially, is very, very backward. Spiritually it is quite rich. But spirituality can’t fill our stomachs.” (55) Here is a message that should be heeded by the affluent well-fed Buddhist proselytes in the West who cannot be bothered with material considerations as they romanticize feudal Tibet.

Buddhism and the Dalai Lama aside, what I have tried to challenge is the Tibet myth, the Paradise Lost image of a social order that was little more than a despotic retrograde theocracy of serfdom and poverty, so damaging to the human spirit, where vast wealth was accumulated by a favored few who lived high and mighty off the blood, sweat, and tears of the many. For most of the Tibetan aristocrats in exile, that is the world to which they fervently desire to return. It is a long way from Shangri-La.

{Michael Parenti is an internationally known author and lecturer. He is one of the nation’s leading progressive political analysts. Parenti received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University in 1962. He has taught at a number of colleges and universities, in the United States and abroad. Parenti’s most recent books are To Kill a Nation (Verso); The Terrorism Trap (City Lights); and The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome (New Press). You can find more information about Michael Parenti at}

1.  Melvyn C. Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet,
and the Dalai Lama (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995),
2.  Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2000), 113.
3.  Kyong-Hwa Seok, “Korean monk gangs battle for temple turf,” San
Francisco Examiner, December 3, 1998.
4.  Gere quoted in “Our Little Secret,” CounterPunch, 1-15 November
5.  Dalai Lama quoted in Donald Lopez Jr., Prisoners of Shangri-La:
Tibetan Buddhism and the West (Chicago and London: Chicago University
Press, 1998), 205.
6.  Stuart Gelder and Roma Gelder, The Timely Rain: Travels in New
Tibet (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1964), 119.
7.  Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 123.
8.  Pradyumna P. Karan, The Changing Face of Tibet: The Impact of
Chinese Communist Ideology on the Landscape (Lexington, Kentucky:
University Press of Kentucky, 1976), 64.
9.  Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 62 and 174.
10.  As skeptically noted by Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La, 9.
11.  See the testimony of one serf who himself had been hunted down by
Tibetan soldiers and returned to his master: Anna Louise Strong,
Tibetan Interviews (Peking: New World Press, 1929), 29-30 90.
12.  Melvyn Goldstein, William Siebenschuh, and Tashì-Tsering, The
Struggle for Modern Tibet: The Autobiography of Tashì-Tsering (Armonk,
N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1997).
13.  Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 110.
14.  Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 15, 19-21, 24.
15.  Quoted in Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 25.
16.  Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 31.
17.  Melvyn C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet 1913-1951
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 5.
18.  Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 175-176; and Strong, Tibetan
Interviews, 25-26.
19.  Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 113.
20.  A. Tom Grunfeld, The Making of Modern Tibet rev. ed. (Armonk,
N.Y. and London: 1996), 9 and 7-33 for a general discussion of feudal
Tibet; see also Felix Greene, A Curtain of Ignorance (Garden City,
N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961), 241-249; Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet
1913-1951, 3-5; and Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La, passim.
21.  Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 91-92.
22.  Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 92-96.
23.  Waddell, Landon, and O’Connor are quoted in Gelder and Gelder,
The Timely Rain, 123-125.
24.  Quoted in Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 125.
25.  Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, 52.
26.  Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, 54.
27.  Heinrich Harrer, Return to Tibet (New York: Schocken, 1985), 29.
28.  Strong, Tibetan Interview, 73.
29.  See Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison, The CIA’s Secret War in
Tibet (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2002); and
William Leary, “Secret Mission to Tibet,” Air & Space, December 1997/
January 1998.
30.  Leary, “Secret Mission to Tibet.”
31.  Hugh Deane, “The Cold War in Tibet,” CovertAction Quarterly
(Winter 1987).
32.  George Ginsburg and Michael Mathos Communist China and Tibet
(1964), quoted in Deane, “The Cold War in Tibet.” Deane notes that
author Bina Roy reached a similar conclusion.
33.  See Greene, A Curtain of Ignorance, 248 and passim; and Grunfeld,
The Making of Modern Tibet, passim.
34.  Los Angeles Times, 18 August 1997.
35.  Harrer, Return to Tibet, 54.
36.  Karan, The Changing Face of Tibet, 36-38, 41, 57-58; London
Times, 4 July 1966.
37.  Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 29 and 47-48.
38.  Tendzin Choegyal, “The Truth about Tibet,” Imprimis (publication
of Hillsdale College, Michigan), April 1999.
39.  Karan, The Changing Face of Tibet, 52-53.
40.  Elaine Kurtenbach, Associate Press report, San Francisco
Chronicle, 12 February 1998.
41.  Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, 47-48.
42.  Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 15-16.
43.  Jim Mann, “CIA Gave Aid to Tibetan Exiles in ’60s, Files Show,”
Los Angeles Times, 15 September 1998; and New York Times, 1 October,
44.  Reuters report, San Francisco Chronicle, 27 January 1997.
45.  News & Observer, 6 September 1995, cited in Lopez, Prisoners of
Shangri-La, 3.
46.  Heather Cottin, “George Soros, Imperial Wizard,” CovertAction
Quarterly no. 74 (Fall 2002).
47.  The Gelders draw this comparison, The Timely Rain, 64.
48.  The Han have also moved into Xinjiang, a large northwest province
about the size of Tibet, populated by Uighurs; see Peter Hessler, “The
Middleman,” New Yorker, 14 & 21 October 2002.
49.  Report by the International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet, A
Generation in Peril (Berkeley Calif.: 2001), passim.
50.  International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet, A Generation in
Peril, 66-68, 98.
51.  John Pomfret, “Tibet Caught in China’s Web,” Washington Post, 23
July 1999.
52.  Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, 51.
53.  Tendzin Choegyal, “The Truth about Tibet.”
54.  The Dalai Lama in Marianne Dresser (ed.), Beyond Dogma: Dialogues
and Discourses (Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 1996).
55.  Quoted in San Francisco Chronicle, 17 May 2001


“If remains are not properly buried, the spirit is just wandering, wandering, until a proper burial has been performed,” said Harlyn Geronimo, the 61-year-old great-grandson, at a press conference yesterday in Washington. “The only way to bring this to a closure is to release the remains and his spirit, so that he can be taken back to his homeland.”

Judge dismisses suits over Geronimo remains
by S. Derrickson Moore / 08.11.2010

Despite recent legal setbacks, efforts will continue to return Geronimo’s remains to his birthplace at the headwaters of the Gila River, according to former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, attorney for a group of relatives of the legendary Apache leader. On Feb.17, 2009, the 100th anniversary of the death of Geronimo, a lawsuit seeking repatriation of Geronimo’s remains was filed in Washington, D.C., by Clark on behalf of 20 descendants, including Harlyn Geronimo of Mescalero, who identified himself as the great-grandson of Geronimo. The lawsuit claimed that his remains were stolen in 1918 by members of Skull and Bones, a secret student society at Yale University, from a burial plot at Fort Sill, Okla., where Geronimo died in 1909. According to an Aug. 10 Associated Press story, Federal Judge Richard Roberts last month granted a Justice Department motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs failed to establish that the government waived its right not to be sued. The judge also dismissed the lawsuit against Yale and the society, saying the plaintiffs cited a law that only applies to Native American cultural items excavated or discovered after 1990. Lariat Geronimo of Mescalero, a great-grandson of Geronimo who disputes Harlyn Geronimo’s family ties to the historical figure, said his family learned of the dismissals about two weeks ago. He said he was pleased with the news. “It’s going to stay there,” he said of the Oklahoma gravesite. “If they want to keep throwing their money around, go ahead.” Lariat Geronimo’s family has opposed the repatriation attempt.

Those who filed the lawsuit have not given up their fight, Clark said Tuesday in a phone interview form his home in New York. “We’re committed to trying to return Geronimo’s remnants to the headwaters of the Gila and there is new hope that we can find ways to do it. This judgment does not preclude other efforts,” Clark said. “It is shameful that Geronimo’s remains would be in Fort Sill in an Apache prisoner of war cemetery in contradiction of his wishes to live and die and be buried in the mountains where he was born. We have asked the court for an order causing the exhumation of remains to determine that they are Geronimo’s and whether all the remains are there,” Clark said. Rumors have persisted for decades that members of Skull and Bones used Geronimo’s remains in their ceremonies. The secret society claims many prestigious members, including Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush, whose grandfather Prescott Bush allegedly dug up Geronimo’s grave when a group of Army volunteers from Yale was stationed at the Ft. Sill during World War I, taking his skull and some of his bones. Phone calls Tuesday to Harlyn Geronimo were not immediately returned. Clark said he has been in touch with the group of Geronimo descendants who filed the lawsuit and plans are in the works. “We have discussed other strategies but no decision has been reached,” on best ways to continue to seek return of Geronimo’s remains to New Mexico, Clark said.

Reputed photo of Geronimo’s remains used in Skull and Bones secret rituals.

Mystery Of The Bones: Geronimo’s Missing Skull [AUDIO]
BY Diane Orson / March 11, 2009

For decades, mystery has surrounded an elite secret society at Yale University called the Order of Skull and Bones. One of the organizations most storied legends involves the skull of Apache warrior Geronimo, who died in 1909 after two decades as a prisoner of war at Fort Sill, Okla. As the story goes, nine years after Geronimo’s death, Skull and Bones members who were stationed at the army outpost dug up the warrior’s grave and stole his skull, as well as some bones and other personal relics. They then sprinted the remains away to New Haven, Conn., and allegedly stashed the skull at the society’s clubhouse, the Skull and Bones Tomb. To make matters even more intriguing, legend has it that the grave-robbing posse included Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. and grandfather of George W.

A Letter Offers Clues
All of this is speculative; Skull and Bones members swear an oath never to reveal what goes on inside the Tomb. But author Marc Wortman says that when he was at Yale’s Sterling Library researching The Millionaire’s Unit, his book about young men from the university who flew during World War I, he stumbled on a letter that seemed to confirm the rumor. Written from one Bonesman to another, the letter, which is dated 1918, reads: “The skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrible exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill by your club and the Knight Haffner is now safe inside the Tomb, together with his well-worn femurs, bit and saddle horn.”

Now 20 descendants of Geronimo have filed a lawsuit against Skull and Bones, Yale University and members of the U.S. government (including Barack Obama), calling for the return of their ancestor’s remains from New Haven, Fort Sill and “wherever else they may be found.” Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark who represents the Geronimo family says that Geronimo made it very clear — even before his surrender — that he wanted to be in the Apache lands of southwestern New Mexico. “When he met with Teddy Roosevelt, for instance, in March of 1905, his request was that he and the other Chiricahua Apaches who were prisoners of war be permitted to return to the headwaters of the Gila River … adding that if he couldn’t return in his lifetime, that he wanted to be buried there,” says Clark.

But Suzan Shown Harjo, president of The Morning Star Institute, a Native rights organization, says it might not be possible to return Geronimo’s remains. Twenty years ago, an Apache tribal chairwoman told Harjo that Geronimo’s body had already been moved from Oklahoma to New Mexico. And even if the lawsuit turns up a skull in Connecticut, “then you have the question of who? Whose head is it?” says Harjo.

The Mystery Abides
We may never know the truth about Geronimo’s remains, says Jeff Houser, chairman of the Fort Sill Apache tribe. Houser is uncomfortable with the lawsuit and would prefer not to disturb Native human remains. He also disputes the idea that Apaches are traditionally buried in their homeland. “Unlike what was stated in the complaint, Apaches do not like to disinter remains, and there is no tradition of burying them in their birthplace. Apaches were nomadic people,” says Houser. “When somebody is buried we traditionally do not revisit the grave. We don’t make a big deal out of it.”

And there’s a further complication. Alexandra Robbins, author Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power says that even if Bonesmen displayed Geronimo’s skull in the Tomb at one time, it’s likely not there now. “There are, at any one time, approximately 800 living members of this organization across the world. So any of them could have put the skull anywhere by now. And it’s never going to surface,” says Robbins. In an e-mail, Yale University spokesman Tom Conroy wrote: “Yale does not possess Geronimo’s remains. Yale does not own the Skull and Bones building or the property it is on, nor does Yale have access to the property or the building.” Efforts to reach members of Skull and Bones for comment were met with silence.

CNN probes: Did Prescott Bush steal Geronimo’s skull?
Filed by David Edwards and Stephen C. Webster / 02/24/2009

While it has long been rumored that Skull and Bones, the Yale secret society which counts several scions of the Bush family as members, holds the skull of legendary Apache warrior Geronimo, his descendants have taken action to uncover the truth. Last week, on the 100th anniversary of Geronimo’s death, 20 members of his family filed a suit in a US federal court, asking that his spirit and physical remains, including his skull, be freed.

Tuesday morning, CNN’s Debra Feyerick explored the suit, discussing an 1918 letter from a bonesman, discovered two years ago, which seems to indicate Geronimo’s skull is stored within “the tomb” where members hold meetings on Yale’s campus. The network also repeated allegations that deceased Senator Prescott Bush, father of President George H.W. Bush and grandfather to President George W. Bush, was one of the grave robbers.

“It’s been 100 years since the death of my great-grandfather in 1909. It’s been 100 years of imprisonment,” Geronimo’s great-grandson Harlyn Geronimo told reporters after the suit had been filed in the district court in Washington. “The spirit is wandering until a proper burial has been performed,” Harlyn Geronimo said. The suit, which names US President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates among the defendants, seeks “to free Geronimo, his remains, funerary objects and spirit from 100 years of imprisonment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the Yale University campus at New Haven, Connecticut and wherever else they may be found.”

The remains would be returned to Geronimo’s wilderness birthplace in the western United States for a true Apache burial, a key facet of the native American tribe’s culture. “The only way to put this into closure is to release the remains, his spirit, so that he can be taken back to his homeland in the Gila Mountains, at the head of the Gila River,” in what is today the state of New Mexico, Geronimo’s reported ancestor said. “Hopefully, the people we have named in our suit will take this seriously … Hopefully, they will seriously consider our request to release the remains and perform a correct burial in the Gila wilderness,” said Geronimo, stressing that the burial ritual is one of the most sacred rites in the Apache culture.

In addition to Obama and Gates, the complaint cites as defendants Army Secretary Pete Geren, Yale University, and the Order of the Skull and Bones, a “secret society” at Yale. In around 1918, members of the Order of the Skull and Bones allegedly took Geronimo’s skull, other bones and items buried with him from the warrior’s tomb at Fort Sill. They are believed to still hold them at the organization’s premises on the campus of Yale, a prestigious Ivy League university. Harlyn Geronimo said he had written to George W. Bush to ask that his great-grandfather’s remains be returned to his Apache homeland for burial, but never got a reply.

Geronimo died in 1909 at nearly 90 years of age at Fort Sill. He had been held as a prisoner of war for more than 20 years after surrendering to the US military on the understanding he would be allowed to return to his homeland and people. “Skull and Bones, with all its ritual and macabre relics, was founded in 1832 as a new world version of secret student societies that were common in Germany at the time,” reported CBS News. “Since then, it has chosen or ‘tapped’ only 15 senior students a year who become patriarchs when they graduate — lifetime members of the ultimate old boys’ club.”

In 2004, both candidates for the presidency, George W. Bush and John F. Kerry, were reported to be members. The group’s numbers “include some of the most powerful men of the 20th century,” according to CBS. “Skull and Bones is so tiny. That’s what makes this staggering,” Alexandra Robbins, author of “Secrets of the Tomb” — an investigation of the secret society — told the network news service. “There are only 15 people a year, which means there are about 800 living members at any one time.”

“‘It’s a secret,’ John Kerry said when asked about his membership,” reported Time magazine. “‘So secret, I can’t say anything more,’ George W. Bush wrote in his autobiography, as if to complete Kerry’s sentence.”

“Yale says it does not have Geroimo’s remains and it does not speak for the secret society,” reported CNN. “Man,” said American Morning co-host Kiran Chetry. “How did Yale know that they didn’t have …”

“Yeah,” retorted CNN’s Deborah Feyerick. “Well, there ya go. But, they’re looking into it. Technically, they could subpoena and see if anybody will say, yeah well, that happens to be the skull, but, unlikely.” Wikipedia purports to feature a list of Skull and Bones members, though the article lacks key citations and could not be verified.

Geronimo’s grandson, Harlan Geronimo, is asking President Bush to return the remains of his great grandfather. He has volunteered to undergo DNA testing to prove ownership. Harlan says that tribal dignity must be restored. He gives this warning: “According to Apache tradition, if you desecrate a grave you upset the spirits. Sooner or later the spirits will come after you. Ultimately, it will lead to death. That’s our tradition.”

Unearthed Letter Claims Yale’s Skull And Bones Dug Up Geronimo’s Bones…
Associated Press   |  STEPHEN SINGER   |  May 9, 2006

“A Yale University historian has uncovered a 1918 letter that seems to lend validity to the lore that Yale University’s ultra-secret Skull and Bones society swiped the skull of American Indian leader Geronimo. The letter, written by one member of Skull and Bones to another, purports that the skull and some of the Indian leader’s remains were spirited from his burial plot in Fort Sill, Okla., to a stone tomb in New Haven that serves as the club’s headquarters.”

Geronimo Surrenders / Pictured on a reservation near Fort Sill, Oklahoma

“The oft-told tale is that Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, and some of his buddies at Yale, dug up the grave of Apache chief Geronimo, removing his skull and femur and placing them in a glass case in the lobby of the Tomb, the headquarters of the university’s notorious Skull and Bones society back in 1917.”

headed for jail in Florida


CNN: Geronimo’s Heir Wants Bush to Return ‘Skull and Bones’
Guest blogged by David Edwards of

On Wednesday, May 24th at about 3:43 pm ET, CNN broadcast this odd little story. There seems to be no reference to it on CNN’s website and we haven’t seen any encore broadcasts since. Here is the short version of the story… Geronimo’s great grandson is making a plea to President Bush to facilitate the return of the remains of the Apache chief. The heir to Geronimo decided to make this request to Bush after a researcher found proof that Bush’s great grandfather, Prescott Bush, had robbed Geronimo’s grave. The skull, bones and other relics are now part of initiation traditions in the secret society of the Skull and Bones. George W. Bush became a member of the secret Skull and Bones society while attending Yale. Not surprising since his father, George H. W. Bush, and his grandfather, Prescott Bush, were also members.

Around 1918, as the story goes, Prescott Bush and other member of the secret society robbed the grave of the Geronimo. The skull, bones and other relics are now thought to be enclosed in a glass case in the “Tomb” of the Skull and Bone society. Many writers and investigators have conducted enough interviews with sources close to Skull and Bones members to be reasonably certain that Prescott and his boys actually stole the remains of the legendary Apache chief.

Earlier this month, a writer researching the history of the Air Force, found a letter written by a Bonesman who would have been an active member of the Society at the same time as Prescott Bush. The letter gave hard confirmation that Geronimo’s had been stolen by members.


“Geronimo is said to have had magical powers. He could see into the future, walk without creating footprints and even hold off the dawn to protect his own. This Apache Indian warrior and his band of 37 followers defied federal authority for more than 25 years.

Geronimo’s final surrender in 1886 was the last significant Indian guerrilla action in the United States. At the end, his group consisted of only 16 warriors, 12 women, and 6 children. Upon their surrender, Geronimo and over 300 of his fellow Chiricahuas were shipped to Fort Marion, Florida. One year later many of them were relocated to the Mt. Vernon barracks in Alabama, where about one quarter died from tuberculosis and other diseases. Geronimo died on Feb. 17, 1909, a prisoner of war, unable to return to his homeland. He was buried in the Apache cemetery at:

Fort Sill, Oklahoma
437 Quanah Road
Fort Sill, OK)


Did Bush’s Grandfather Steal Geronimo’s Skull?
Apache Warrior’s Great Grandson Wrote to the White House, Demanding Return of the Bones
By MARCUS BARAM / June 20, 2007

It has all the ingredients for the ultimate conspiracy theory. Take President Bush and his father, throw in a legendary Apache chief, strange rituals performed in the dead of night in a building named the Tomb, grave robbing, and a secret society of elite students called Skull and Bones.

The oft-told tale is that Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, and some of his buddies at Yale, dug up the grave of Apache chief Geronimo, removing his skull and femur and placing them in a glass case in the lobby of the Tomb, the headquarters of the university’s notorious Skull and Bones society back in 1917. It’s a story that’s become legend at Yale, passed down from generation to generation. Despite the lack of clear evidence, every new clue or rumor just adds to its allure. But could a medicine man in Mescalero, N.M., be able to definitively prove whether the story is true?

Harlyn Geronimo, the great grandson of the Apache warrior, wants to prove that the skull is authentic by offering his DNA to see if it matches the bones, and he’s demanding the return of the remains. “I really believe that that’s my great grandfather’s skull,” Geronimo tells “We want to return him to the Gila Wilderness, where he was born, so the spirit can complete its journey and go on to the next world. Presently, he’s buried as a prisoner of war and it still has that status over him.”

Geronimo has written to the White House, hoping to obtain the president’s help at retrieving his great grandfather’s remains. And he’s considering legal action against the society. The ultrasecret Skull and Bones society’s close-knit members have gone on to powerful positions in both government and business. Past Bonesmen – including both presidents Bush, President William Howard Taft, Sen. John Kerry, William F. Buckley, Time magazine founder Henry Luce, financier William H. Donaldson, and numerous CIA agents – are sworn to secrecy about the club’s rituals.

At least one member was willing to talk, emphatically stressing that the story is just a tall tale. Coit Liles claims that Geronimo’s skull is not sitting in the Tomb. “It’s not there and it never has been there,” Liles says, adding that Prescott Bush or any other Bonesman never dug up the bones. “It’s just a story.”

Liles is the secretary of RTA Incorporated, the trust that runs the society. The society may be secretive about their rituals but the trust is a little more open about its activities. In its 2005 tax return, the New Haven, Conn.-based trust claimed $3.7 million in net assets, and that it spent $236,683 on education programs of “intellectual inquiry, sensitivity training and personal development” for Yale students.

Despite the denials, plenty of other people believe that the tale rings true based on recent evidence. Last year, a Yale historian uncovered a letter that seemed to confirm the story. Written in 1918, from one Bonesman to another, the letter describes how Prescott Bush and some friends dug up the grave when they were stationed for military duty in Fort Sill, Okla. “The skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrible, exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill by your club … is now safe inside the [Tomb] together with his well-worn femurs, bit and saddle horn,” reads the letter.

The authenticity of the letter certainly lent some credibility to the story, says Alexandra Robbins, who wrote “Secrets of the Tomb,” a history of Skull and Bones. “Of all the tales about Skull and Bones booty – the skull of [President] Martin Van Buren: not true, Pancho Villa: not true, Geronimo: possibly true,” says Robbins. “Of all the rumors, that one has the most plausibility. The letter included a very detailed description of the skull.” As part of her research into what she calls “the country’s most powerful elite alumni network,” Robbins interviewed over 150 Bonesmen. “They say there is a skull in a glass case just inside the entrance to the Tomb and they’ve called it Geronimo.”

Almost two decades ago, another Native American, Ned Anderson, attempted to obtain the skull. He claimed that then-Congressman John McCain and then-Congressman Morris Udall arranged for him to meet Jonathan Bush, the first President Bush’s brother. “According to Ned, they brought out a skull but it was obviously a skull of a ten-year-old and they were trying to bluff him and tried to get him to sign papers saying that he would never speak about it again,” says Robbins. Anderson claimed that he rejected the offer.

The 1918 letter was authenticated by Judith Schiff, the chief research archivist at Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library. “I think a lot of people thought it was just a legend, but the letter says that students dug up the bones and thought it was Geronimo’s,” says Schiff. “Prescott Bush and the others were at Fort Sill, getting ready to go fight in World War I as part of Yale ROTC, and they may have been roaming the area and had a chance to bring it back to Yale or sent it somehow.”

But is it Geronimo’s skull? “Your guess is as good as mine,” says Schiff. “They thought it was Geronimo’s skull, but who knows?” Another Skull and Bones expert, writer Ron Rosenbaum, has his doubts. “There is no evidence that the skull brought back to New Haven by Prescott Bush and those other people was Geronimo’s skull,” he says. “Local anthropologists say the grave was unmarked. Skull and Bonesmen like to boast about it, but it’s more likely that they were conned by some locals who said, ‘Hey, you want to buy Geronimo’s skull?'”


By Ron Rosenbaum  /  New York Observer  /  July 17, 2000

What if I told you I’d stolen the skull of Prescott Bush, George W.’s grandfather? Snuck up to the Bush family burial plot in the depths of the night, dug up the coffin, cracked it open, yanked the skull off the skeleton and slipped away with it. How would you react? How would George W. Bush react?

I raise these questions to put in perspective the allegations against George W. Bush’s secret society, Skull and Bones, allegations that link the society and Governor Bush’s grandfather to the practice of grave robbing. I raise these questions to help put in perspective the bizarre-yet-true moment when George W. Bush’s uncle sought to offer the skull of a young child to an Apache tribal official in an apparent attempt to hush up a potential Bush family scandal. Should this skeleton in the Bush closet that was, in fact, part of a skeleton, be an issue in the Presidential campaign?

It seems like the grave-robbing allegation just will not die. A new source has come forward to substantiate a previous allegation involving Bush family patriarch Prescott Bush and to broaden the charge from one skull-snatching to a secret-society-wide Skull and Bones practice. And the source has added a further allegation: license-plate stealing. All of which paints a picture of a grave-robbing, plate-stealing crime spree of the privileged elite. Practices, including those of his own grandfather, candidate George W. should be called upon to disclaim or defend.

The new source, whom I’ll call (what else?) “Deep Skull,” came forward in response to my appeal in the pages of The Observer recently (“Inside George W.’s Secret Crypt,” March 27.) I had made a public appeal to the women of the legendary Skull and Bones all-girl break-in team. These were the intrepid women who had in the late 70’s slipped illicitly inside the sanctum sanctorum of the blue blood Old Boys network, the forbidding, windowless Egyptian-style crypt on the Yale campus in New Haven which Skull and Bones initiates call “the Tomb.”

Two decades ago, one of the all-girl break-in team’s confederates had shown me the pictures taken inside the Tomb during the break-in. And very fetching pictures they were, one of my favorite being a kind of mock pajama party featuring two of the break-in team in Laura Ashley-like nightclothes and one in men’s pajamas clustered around the base of the Skull and Bones grandfather clock, which featured a skeleton hanging inside the glass pendulum case. One bare toe nudging an actual skull.

For strictly journalistic reasons, I was hoping one of these brave women would come forward and supply to me the photos of their successful raid on the crypt of the secret society that has for nearly two centuries shaped the character of the men who shaped the American character. You know the roll call: The pajama-clad ninjas were lounging in a place that had been the secret retreat of Presidents such as William Howard Taft and George Bush; Supreme Court Justices such as Potter Stewart; Secretaries of State such as Henry Stimson; diplomatic mandarins such as Averell Harriman and Robert Lovett; National Security advisers (and Bay of Pigs planners and Vietnam war architects) such as William and McGeorge Bundy; Senators such as Cooper, Chafee, Boren and Kerry, to name just a few; publishing magnates with names like Luce and Cowles; C.I.A. recruits William F. Buckley and William Sloane Coffin. There in the bowels of the Skull and Bones Tomb, to the accompaniment of occult male bonding rituals that involved baring their souls and, some say, their bodies, they’d spill their guts to each other, share their sexual histories together … and rob skulls together?

That was the question raised again by Deep Skull. She’s a woman who was surreptitiously taken into the Tomb, contacted me, and her story is even more provocative because she was taken into the Tomb by an initiate-an unheard-of breach of the bloodcurdling vows of secrecy the Skull and Bones society demands of its members.

She was taken inside and was not only given a tour but given the secrets, which she has now passed on to me. But before we get to the question of stolen skulls, let me get to the story of the allegedly stolen license plates that I think helps put the grave-robbing charge against George W.’s society (and his grandfather) in context.

In my previous Observer piece on Skull and Bones, I’d spoken of the “the Room with the License Plates of Many States.” I’d spoken of it in a kind of tongue-in-cheek way as a kind of corrective to all the grand conspiracy theories that have made the Tomb of Skull and Bones the epicenter of the Hidden Hand that secretly rules the world. My point was that the power of Skull and Bones was far from hidden-it was out there, in your face. I mean, even with the decline of the traditional WASP establishment, they stand a good chance of getting two initiates into the White House in a single decade. My point was also to counterbalance the focus on the deep WASP voodoo, the overlay of exotic and occult rituals that initiates, future presidents, all had to undergo: the stories of the nude mud wrestling, the naked coffin sexual confessionals, the close encounters with guys from Greenwich and Locust Valley dressed up as skeletons-all the mumbo jumbo of crypto-Masonic homosocial (if not homoerotic) bonding rituals.

And so I pointed instead to the photographs the break-in team had shown me of “the Room with the License Plates of Many States,” as I dubbed it: “The kind of thing you’d expect to find in some second-tier midwestern frat house. A wall covered with a bunch of license plates. Gee, look at all the places the brothers have been! Get me a brewski!” But now I’m beginning to think I may have underestimated the true significance of the Room with the License Plates of Many States. Now I think it may, in fact, be the key to understanding the Skull and Bones mindset. What changed my mind was my encounter with Deep Skull, who sent me the following missive, some of whose identifying details I’ve removed: “In the late 1970’s I had a boyfriend who was tapped [for Bones] although he didn’t really fit the profile because he seemed a bit of a loser in the way of a John O’Hara character … Anyway, he took me inside … Alas, I didn’t pay very close attention because perhaps not being a Yalie … I didn’t know what the big deal was, but in regard to the license plate room which was a kind of a foyer or mud room to the right of the entrance I seem to recall that the reason for the plates was that they all bore the numbers 322 [the mythical date of the founding of the Skull and Bones “order,” which traces itself to the death of Demosthenes in 322 B.C.], and that it was the obligation of the S&B boys to confiscate such plates when spotted … If I can be of any further assistance feel free to contact me at the above address and phone number.”

Needless to say, I did contact her. She is a well-regarded professional whose work has been praised by some well-known cultural figures, and she told me, on condition of anonymity, much more that was fascinating about her penetration of the sanctum of Skull and Bones-but let’s dwell for a moment on the license plates. No, it’s not the Bay of Pigs (we’ll get to the curious Skull and Bones connection to that tragedy in a moment). But it’s more than trivial. It’s a lesson in the immunity that privilege can confer. Say you’re an inner-city kid, not shielded by privilege, who’s sent to jail for a similar “confiscation.” It’s not trivial to you.

And come to think about it, what about all those judges, all those lawyers and legislators who pass through the Room with the “Confiscated” License Plates of Many States, the ones who are sworn to uphold the law, the ones who sentence kids to jail for thefts when they’re not protected by the shield of privilege and the padlocked doors of the Skull and Bones Tomb? Skull and Bones is supposed to be the place where the best and brightest of the elite and privileged develop character and breeding. But the practice of “confiscating” plates would suggest it breeds the kind of character with a contempt for the law, except when it’s applied to the transgressions of the lower orders.

Whose Child Do They Have?
Now let’s examine the controversy over the confiscated skulls to see if what we now know about confiscated plates can illuminate the question of confiscated pates, so to speak. Consider first the prevalence of death, grave, skeleton and skull imagery at the heart of the psychic bonding ritual that has made Skull and Bones such a powerful influence on people like George W.

The skeletal grave-digging imagery of Skull and Bones was there from the 1832 beginning, imported from Germany by Skull and Bones founder General Alfred Russell, who seems to have adopted much of the iconography and death’s-head philosophy from the German Lodges of Freemasonry. The Germanic influence on Skull and Bones may have extended to some less savory secret societies than the Freemasons. Hitler’s SS was, of course, known for using skull-and-crossbones insignia, which some say derived from the same German Masonic sources-a connection that, according to one report, has not gone unrecognized by the initiates of “the Order.” Back in 1989, noted author, editor and raconteur Steven L. Aronson published an essay on Skull and Bones that quoted a member of what seems to be the same all-girl break-in team.

“The most shocking thing,” the source told Mr. Aronson, “and I say this because I do think it’s sort of important-I mean President Bush does belong to Skull and Bones … there is like a little Nazi shrine inside. One room on the second floor has a bunch of swastikas, kind of an SS macho Nazi iconography. Somebody should ask President Bush about the swastikas in there.”

Out of fairness it’s possible to conceive that what this woman saw was captured Nazi memorabilia rather than a shrine-several secret societies at Yale are said to boast of possessing Hitler’s silverware, for instance. But that does not appear to be the impression this woman got. And so her suggestion-“Somebody should ask President Bush about the swastikas in there”-might be just as relevant to George W., who would know about the nature of the “shrine” she describes.

On Sunday, two days before The Observer went to press, I faxed a detailed summary of the questions raised in this story to Bush press aide Dan Bartlett, and asked for comment by press time, midday Tuesday. No reply was forthcoming.

Now let’s proceed to the relationship between the Bush family and the skull of Geronimo-and the skull of an unidentified child. One of the sensational disclosures Deep Skull made to me, one of the secrets vouchsafed to her by the initiate who took her into the Tomb, was about the role of the skulls that decorate the inner walls of the Tomb.

Once having passed the Room with the (“Confiscated”) License Plates of Many States, she said, upon entering the main room of the Tomb, she noticed mantelpieces decorated with “loads of skulls.” Human skulls, each bearing a name plate. Her attention was immediately drawn, by her initiate escort, to what she described as a kind of “aquarium-like glass case filled with what looked like turquoise chips” surmounted by a skull. A skull she said was identified by her guide as the skull of a great Native American warrior. She recalled it as Cochise, but says after 20 years that it could well have been Geronimo.

Her initiate guide explained to her, she told me, that in order to prove their mettle and perhaps to bond them in mutual guilt over participation in an illicit act, each class of 15 new initiates to Skull and Bones were required to dig up, to “confiscate,” the skull of a famous person and bring it to the Tomb to be enshrined in its skull collection. It makes you wonder what other famous dead people are missing their skulls.

Here’s where the Bush family involvement in the grave-robbing allegation begins. In 1986, someone-a still-anonymous unknown source- sent an excerpt from a privately printed Skull and Bones document to the chairman of the San Carlos Apache tribe in Arizona, one Ned Anderson. The document was entitled A Continuation of the History of Our Order for the Century Celebration. Its author, I have since learned, was Skull and Bones member F.O. Matthiessen, later a Harvard professor renowned for his groundbreaking studies of classic 19th-century American literature. I’ve also learned that the original of the document reposes now in a Harvard library where, under an agreement with Matthiessen’s executors and Skull and Bones, it is not available to the public.

The document is an account of a “mad expedition” by George W.’s grandfather Prescott Bush and two other Skull and Bones men to the grave of Geronimo “to bring to the Tomb its most spectacular ‘crook,’ the skull of Geronimo, the Indian chief who had taken 49 white scalps. … [Prescott] Bush entered and started to dig. The skull was fairly clean, having only some flesh inside and a little hair.”

I was recently able to confirm, from a copy of an official Skull and Bones directory (whose provenance I can’t disclose), that in fact George W.’s grandfather Prescott was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, site of Geronimo’s tomb, in 1918 at the U.S. Army artillery training school there, along with Ellery James and Neil Mallon, the other two men mentioned as part of the tomb-raiding party.

Note the language: They say they’ll bring back to the Tomb “its most spectacular ‘crook.'” Which suggests that the Tomb contains an array of other somewhat less spectacular but similarly stolen skulls. In fact, shortly after the Geronimo-skull story appeared in print, and after Ned Anderson, the Apache tribal leader, had enlisted the aid of his senator, John McCain, to try to set up a meeting with then Vice President George Bush, another allegation about a similar raid for “crook” skulls surfaced. A group of men in El Paso claimed to have proof that, back in 1923, five Skull and Bones men put up a total of $25,000 to pay for the acquisition of the skull of Pancho Villa. Mark Singer investigated the El Paso-Pancho Villa skull-robbery allegation for The New Yorker in 1989 and ended up somewhat skeptical, as am I.

But in the course of his highly diverting account of the Pancho Villa skull claim, Mr. Singer lets drop an astonishing detail about the parallel Geronimo skull-recovery attempt: a remarkable report of a face-to-face, indeed face-to-skull, meeting between the Apache tribal representative, Ned Anderson, and representatives of Skull and Bones, including George Bush’s brother Jonathan!

According to Mr. Singer, Endicott Peabody Davison, a lawyer described as a designated spokesman for the Russell Trust Association, the Skull and Bones corporate shell, described the “Century Celebration” grave-robbing document as authentic-but the raid itself “apocryphal.” Nonetheless, “in 1986 [Davison] and other representatives of Skull and Bones-among them George Bush’s brother Jonathan- met with Anderson. They brought a skull and offered it to Anderson, but he declined because it seemed not to be the same one he had seen in photographs surreptitiously provided by an anonymous dissident member of Bones. The nose and eye cavities didn’t match. Also Anderson took offense at a document that Davison wanted him to sign, which stipulated that neither the Apaches nor Skull and Bones would publicly discuss the whole business.”

I was fascinated by this account: Soon to be President Bush’s brother offering the Apaches a skull their father was said to have stolen! Demanding the Apaches be sworn to silence presumably to protect the Bush family as well as Bones. But looking further into the episode I found an even more extraordinary detail about that face-to-skull meeting: the Skull of the Unknown Child. It appeared in an earlier account of the Geronimo controversy that first ran in 1988 in the Arizona Republic. In it, Republic reporter Paul Brinkley-Rogers reveals another fact about the document the Bush/Bones delegation asked the Apaches to sign: “Anderson called the document ‘very insulting to Indians.’ [He] also said he was confused and annoyed because the document said that Skull and Bones members had submitted the skull to ‘an expert in New Haven’ who determined that the remains were those of a child and therefore ‘cannot possibly be those of Geronimo.'”

Chilling! Now we not only have the mystery of the skull of Geronimo, we have the mystery of the skull of a child. What was George Bush’s brother doing with a dead child’s skull in his hands? (A message left at Jonathan Bush’s number in Connecticut was not returned.) Chilling as well in its implication of the presumptions of privilege: Hey you naïve Apaches, we don’t have the skull you wanted, but if you sign this document and keep your mouth shut, we’ll give you another skull we happen to have lying around. Treating the Apache like a child.

But meanwhile, I want to know: Who was that child? And how did his or her head end up in the Skull and Bones Tomb? My attempt to get further information from the Skull and Bones shell corporation, the Russell Trust Association, resulted in my uncovering a
fascinating corporate shell game that led back to the Bay of Pigs. These days any researcher who attempts to track down information from the Russell Trust Association will learn from the corporate filings office of the Connecticut Secretary of State that no such entity exists. This is a bit of a scam. It required some brilliant cross-referencing and close study of the secret Skull and Bones directories on the part of my research associate on this story, Peggy Adler, to discover that the Russell Trust Association changed its name nearly four decades ago and effectively erased its existence from corporate history.

It did so by abolishing itself and then reincorporating itself with the uninformative, anonymous-sounding name “RTA Incorporated.” And it chose a very peculiar moment in history to do so. The new papers of reincorporation that erased the century-old Russell Trust Association were filed at 10:15 a.m. on April 14, 1961. Two hours later, at noon on that day, the orders went out to begin the Bay of Pigs operations-the covert C.I.A.-financed invasion of Castro’s Cuba, a bloody fiasco that still haunts us four decades later.

Coincidence? Probably. But then it’s also true that one of the C.I.A.’s masterminds for the Bay of Pigs was a man named Richard Drain, Skull and Bones ’43. And the White House planner of the Bay of Pigs operation was McGeorge Bundy, Skull and Bones ’40. And the State Department liaison for the Bay of Pigs operation was his brother William P. Bundy, Skull and Bones ’39. And the man who filed the reincorporation papers that erased the Russell Trust Association from existence on the day of the Bay of Pigs was Howard Weaver, Skull and Bones ’45W (George Bush’s class), who retired from the C.I.A. in 1959. All of which might lead one to suspect that the Skull and Bones corporate shell had been used as a clandestine conduit of funds for the Bay of Pigs, and then erased from existence to cover up the connection as the invasion got underway.

Still, once again, it’s not any covert connection between Skull and Bones and the Bay of Pigs that’s so shocking and revealing, it’s the overt connection: Whether or not they used the Russell Trust Association as a pipeline, the fact that all these Skull and Bones geniuses devised such a patently idiotic plan in the first place is the scandal. Brave men died because of their elitist secret-society mentality. And then they went on to give us Vietnam. It makes you fear for the future of our country if George W. turns to these types for advice.

In any case, by using the secret new corporate name I was able to learn the identities of the current officers of RTA Inc. But as of press time, neither the president of RTA, retired attorney David George Ball, nor the treasurer, Henry P. Davison, have replied to my requests for further information.

Once again, to put this concern into context: The cover photo of my new book The Secret Parts of Fortune, which reprints my original 1977 investigation plus new revelations from Deep Skull, depicts me on the steps of the Skull and Bones Tomb holding a skull under my arm (see photo on page 13), and a number of people have asked me whose skull it is. If I were to say it was the skull of Prescott Bush, I would imagine everyone in the Bush family would come down on my skull for it. But somehow, the skull of an Apache or an unidentified child in the possession of Skull and Bones is considered just a harmless prank? I don’t think so.

There is a peculiar horror that attaches itself to depriving the bones of the dead of their proper resting place. A horror and a curse. On his own tomb Shakespeare ordered the curse to be carved in stone: “Blest be the man that spares these stones / And curst be he that moves my bones.”

I hereby offer my good offices to the Bush family to rectify the situation and exorcise the curse. I’m willing to meet with Jonathan Bush, my old Yale classmate George W., or indeed any member of the Bush family (except maybe Barbara) to arrange for the return of the skull of that poor child to its parents. And give all those other skulls a proper burial.


Find of a Lifetime: A Lost African-American World on Film  /
September 13, 2006

The African-American past is an iceberg, still 90 percent submerged.
Because so much material remains in family hands or lies piled in the
unvisited attics and basements of libraries, newspapers, and even
police stations, rich discoveries await. Currie Ballard, a historian
in Oklahoma, has just made what he calls “the find of a lifetime”—29
cans of motion picture film dating from the 1920s that reveal the
daily lives of some remarkably successful black communities.

The film shows them thriving in the years after the infamous Tulsa
Riot of 1921, in which white mobs destroyed that city’s historic black
Greenwood district, which was known as the Black Wall Street of
America. Through the flickering eloquence of silent film we see a
people resilient beyond anyone’s imagining, visiting one another’s
country homes, parading through downtown Muskogee in some two dozen
Packards, crowding an enormous church in Tulsa not long after the
riots, during a gathering of the National Baptist Convention.

Indeed, this extraordinary archive exists because someone at the
powerful National Baptist Convention assigned the Rev. S. S. Jones, a
circuit preacher, to document the glories of Oklahoma’s black towns,
Guthrie, Muskogee, and Langston. Reverend Jones surely has a way with
a camera as he comes in close on the animated faces of his neighbors,
sweeps wide to track black cowboys racing across a swath of ranch
land, or vertically pans up the skyscraper-high oil derricks owned by
the Ragsdale family, whose wells produced as much as a thousand
barrels a day. We know the names of these families and others because
typed labels accompany each of the eight-minute cans, and onscreen
titles introduce the various segments.

This is a historian’s dream, more than four hours of never-before-seen
film that is engaging, intimate, and shown in its full context,
incorporating names, dates, and places. And Reverend Jones even
traveled (as reflected in those 29 cans of film but not in the
excerpts here) to Kansas City, Denver, Arkansas, and even Paris and
Marseilles to film life there.

Ballard admits that he mortgaged his life away when the opportunity
arose to acquire this treasure. Now he’s hoping to find an appropriate
institution to take it over and transfer the highly unstable film to
disk, a costly operation. He wants the world to view this material, to
make people aware that only 60 years after emancipation, and in the
shadow of one of the nation’s most violent and destructive race riots,
these people persevered and built anew. Perhaps someone out there,
watching this, right now, will take the lead.

For more information contact Wyatt Houston Day, a bookseller and
archivist working with Currie Ballard :


Bill Moyers: Look at these pictures. Those photographs are from one of
the most stunning new books you’ll read this year, Slavery by Another
Name. The author is Douglas Blackmon, the Atlanta bureau chief of the
Wall Street Journal. His articles on race, wealth and other issues
have been nominated for Pulitzer Prizes four times. His reporting on
U.S.Steel and the company’s use of forced labor was included in the
2003 edition of Best Business Stories, and his contribution to the
Journal’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina received a Special Headliner
Award in 2006. Welcome.

This is truly the most remarkable piece of reporting I have read in a
long time. I honestly cannot recommend it highly enough. What you
report is that no sooner did the slave owners, businessmen of the
South, lose the Civil War, then they turned around, and in complicity
with state and local governments and industry, reinvented slavery by
another name. And what was the result?

Douglas Blackmon: Well, the result was that by the time you got to the
end of the 19th century, 25 or 30 years after the Civil War, the
generation of slaves who’d been freed by the Emancipation
Proclamation, and then the constitutional amendments that ended
slavery legally this generation of people, who experienced authentic
freedom in many respects tough life, difficult hard lives after the
Civil War but real freedom, in which they voted, they participated in

Bill Moyers: They farmed?

Douglas Blackmon: They farmed. They carved out independent lives. But
then, this terrible shadow began to fall back across black life in
America, that effectively re-enslaved enormous numbers of people. And
what that was all about, what that was rooted in, was that the
southern economic, and in a way, the American economy, was addicted to
slavery, was addicted to forced labor. And the South could not
resurrect itself.

And so, there was this incredible economic imperative to bring back
coerced labor. And they did, on a huge scale.

Bill Moyers: You said they did it by criminalizing black life.

Douglas Blackmon: Well, and that was that was a charade. But the way
that happened was that, of course, before the Civil War, there were
Slave Codes. There were laws that governed the behavior of slaves. And
that was the basis of laws, for instance, that made it where a slave
had to have a written pass to leave their plantation and travel on an
open road.

Well, immediately after the Civil War, all the southern states adopted
a new set of laws that were then called Black Codes. And they
essentially attempted to recreate the Slave Codes. Well, those that
was such an obvious effort to recreate slavery, that the Union
military leadership that was still in the South, overruled all of
that. Still, that didn’t work. And by the time you get to the end of
Reconstruction, all the southern legislatures have gone back and
passed laws that aren’t called Black Codes, but essentially
criminalized a whole array of activities, that it was impossible for a
poor black farmer to avoid encountering in some way.

Bill Moyers: Such as?

Douglas Blackmon: Vagrancy. So, vagrancy was a law that essentially,
it simply, you were breaking the law if you couldn’t prove at any
given moment that you were employed. Well, in a world in which there
were no pay stubs, it was impossible to prove you were employed. The
only way you could prove employment was if some man who owned land
would vouch for you and say, he works for me. And of course, none of
these laws said it only applies to black people. But overwhelmingly,
they were only enforced against black people. And many times,
thousands of times I believe, you had young black men who attempted to
do that. They ended up being arrested and returned to the original
farmer where they worked in chains, not even a free worker, but as a

Bill Moyers: And the result, as you write, thousands of black men were
arrested, charged with whatever, jailed, and then sold to plantations,
railroads, mills, lumber camps and factories in the deep South. And
this went on, you say, right up to World War II?

Douglas Blackmon: And it was everywhere in the South. These forced
labor camps were all over the place. The records that still survive,
buried in courthouses all over the South, make it abundantly clear
that thousands and thousands of African-Americans were arrested on
completely specious claims, made up stuff, and then, purely because of
this economic need and the ability of sheriffs and constables and
others to make money off arresting them, and that providing them to
these commercial enterprises, and being paid for that.

Bill Moyers: You have a photograph in here I have literally not been
able to get this photograph out of my mind since I saw it the first
time several weeks ago, when I first got your book. It’s a photograph
of an unnamed prisoner tied around a pickaxe for punishment in a
Georgia labor camp. It was photographed some time around 1932, which
this is hard to believe was two years before I was born.

Douglas Blackmon: Well, that picture was taken by a journalist named
John Spivak, who took an astonishing series of pictures in these
forced labor camps in Georgia in the 1930s. He got access to the
prison system of Georgia and these forced labor encampments, which
were scattered all over the place. Some of them were way out in the
deep woods. There were turpentine camps. Some of them were mining
camps. All incredibly harsh, brutal work. He got access to these as a
journalist, in part, because the officials of Georgia had no
particular shame in what was happening.

Bill Moyers: That’s a surprising thing.

Douglas Blackmon: Well, and but what the picture also demonstrates was
the level of violence and brutality, the venality of things that were
done. And so, this kind of physical torture went on, on a huge scale.
People were whipped, starved. They went without clothing. There were
work camps where people reported that they would arrive looking for a
lost family member, and they would arrive at a sawmill or a lumber
camp where the men were working as slaves naked, chained, you know,
whipped. It was it’s just astonishing, the level of brutality.

Bill Moyers: You have a story in here of a young man who a teenager
who spilled or poured coffee on the hog of the farmer he was working
for. He was stripped, stretched across a barrel, and flogged 69 times
with a leather strap. And he died a week later. But that’s not a
unique story in this book.

Douglas Blackmon: No, that was incredibly common. And there were on
the there were thousands and thousands of people who died under these
circumstances over the span of the period that I write about in the
book. And over and over again, it was from disease and malnutrition,
and from outright homicide and physical abuse.

Bill Moyers: You give voice to a young man long dead, whose voice
would never had been heard, had you not discovered it, resurrected it,
and presented it. He’s the chief character in this book. Green
Cottenham, is that is.

Douglas Blackmon: Yes, that’s right.

Bill Moyers: Tell me about Green Cottenham.

Douglas Blackmon: Green Cottenham was a man in the 1880s born to a
mother and a father who, both of whom had been slaves, who were
emancipated at the end of the Civil War. Imagine, a young man and a
young woman who’ve just been freed from slavery. And now they have the
opportunity to break away from the plantations where they’d been held,
begin a new life. And so, they do. They marry. They have many
children. Green Cottenham is the last of them.

He’s born in the 1880s, just as this terrible curtain of hostility and
oppression is beginning to really creep across all of black life in
the South. And by the time he becomes an adult, in the first years of
the 20th century, the worst forces of the efforts to re-enslave black
Americans are in full power across the South. And in the North, the
allies, the white allies of the freed slaves, have abandoned them. And
so, right at the before of the 20th century, whites all across America
have essentially reached this new consensus that slavery shouldn’t be
brought back. But if African-Americans are returned to a state of
absolute servility, that’s okay.

And Green Cottenham becomes an adult at exactly that moment. And then,
in 1908, in the spring of 1908, he’s arrested, standing outside a
train station in a little town in Alabama. The officer who arrested
him couldn’t remember what the charge was by the time he brought him
in front of the judge. So he’s conveniently convicted of a different
crime than the one he was originally picked up for. He ends up being
sold three days later, with another group of black men, into a coal
mine outside of Birmingham. And he survives there several months, and
then dies under terrible circumstances.

Bill Moyers: You write, 45 years after Lincoln’s Emancipation
Proclamation, Cottenham was one of thousands of men working like a
slave in these coalmines. Slope 12, you call it.

Douglas Blackmon: Slope number 12.

Bill Moyers: What was slope number 12?

Douglas Blackmon: Slope number 12 was a huge mine on the outskirts of
Birmingham, part of a maze of mines. Birmingham is the fastest growing
city in the country. Huge amounts of wealth and investment are pouring
into the place.

But there’s this again, this need for forced labor. And the very men,
the very entrepreneurs who, just before the Civil War, were
experimenting with a kind of industrial slavery, using slaves in
factories and foundries, and had begun to realize, hey, this works
just as well as slaves out on the farm.

The very same men who were doing that in the 1850s, come back in the
1870s and begin to reinstitute the same form of slavery. And Green
Cottenham is one of the men, one of the many thousands of men who were
sucked into the process, and then lived under these terribly
brutalizing circumstances, this place that was filled with disease and
malnutrition. And he dies there under terrible, terrible

Bill Moyers: And you found the sunken graves five miles from downtown

Douglas Blackmon: It’s just miles away. In fact there are just two
places there, because all of these mines now are abandoned. Everything
is overgrown. There are almost no signs of human activity, except that
if you dig deep into the woods, grown over there, you begin to see, if
you get the light just right, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of
depressions where these bodies were buried.

Bill Moyers: You say that Atlanta, where you live now, which used to
proclaim itself the finest city in the South, was built on the broken
backs of re-enslaved black men.

Douglas Blackmon: That’s right. When I started off writing the book, I
began to realize the degree to which this form of enslavement had
metastasized across the South, and that Atlanta was one of many places
where the economy that created the modern city, was one that relied
very significantly on this form of coerced labor. And some of the most
prominent families and individuals in the in the creation of the
modern Atlanta, their fortunes originated from the use of this
practice. And the most dramatic example of that was a brick factory on
the outskirts of town that, at the turn of the century, was producing
hundreds of thousands of bricks every day.The city of Atlanta bought
millions and millions of those bricks. The factory was operated
entirely with forced workers. And almost 100 percent black forced
workers. There were even times that on Sunday afternoons, a kind of
old-fashioned slave auction would happen, where a white man who
controlled black workers would go out to Chattahoochee Brick and horse
trade with the guards at Chattahoochee Brick, trading one man for
another, or two men. And-

Bill Moyers: And yet, slavery was illegal?

Douglas Blackmon: It had been illegal for 40 years. And this is a
really important thing to me. I was stunned when I realized that
because the city of Atlanta bought these millions and millions of
bricks, well, those are the bricks that paved the downtown streets of
Atlanta. And those bricks are still there. And so these are the bricks
that we stand on.

Bill Moyers: Didn’t this economic machine that was built upon forced
labor, didn’t these Black Codes, the way that black life was
criminalized, didn’t this put African-Americans at a terrific economic
disadvantage then and now?

Douglas Blackmon: Absolutely. The results of those laws and the
results of particularly enforcing them with such brutality through
this forced labor system, the result of that was that African-
Americans thousands and thousands of them worked for years and years
of their lives with no compensation whatsoever, no ability to end up
buying property and enjoying the mechanisms of accumulating wealth in
the way that white Americans did. This was a part of denying black
Americans access to education, denying black Americans access to basic
infrastructure, like paved roads, the sorts of things that made it
possible for white farmers to become successful.

And so, yes, this whole regime of the Black Codes, the way that they
were enforced, the physical intimidation and racial violence that went
on, all of these were facets of the same coin that made it incredibly
less likely that African-Americans would emerge out of poverty in the
way that millions of white Americans did at the same time.

Bill Moyers: How is it, you and I both Southerners, how is it we could
grow up right after this era, and be so unaware of what had just
happened to our part of the country?

Douglas Blackmon: Well, I think there are a lot of explanations for
that. The biggest one is simply that this is a history that we haven’t
wanted to know as a country. We’ve engaged in a in a kind of
collective amnesia about this, particularly about the severity of it.

And the official history of this time, the conventional history tended
to minimize the severity of the things that were done again and again
and again, and to focus instead, on the idea, on a lot of false
mythologies. Like, this idea that freed slaves after emancipation
became lawless and sort of went wild, and thievery, and all sorts of
crimes being committed by African-Americans right after the Civil War
and during Reconstruction. But when you go back, as I did, and look at
the arrest records from that period of time, there’s just no
foundation for that. And the reality was there was hardly any crime at
all. And huge numbers of people were being arrested on these specious
charges, so they could be forced back into labor.

Bill Moyers: Another reason — I just think, as you talk — another
reason is that anybody who raised these allegations or charges, or
wrote about them when I was growing up, were dismissed as Communists.
If it had been from The Wall Street Journal, it might have been a
different take.

Douglas Blackmon: Well, I think there’s some truth to that. Anyone who
tried to raise these sorts of questions was at risk of complete
excoriation among other white Southerners. But that’s also what’s
remarkable about the present moment. And one of the things I’ve
discovered in the course of talking about the book with people is that
there’s an openness to a conversation about these things that I think
didn’t exist even ten or 15 years ago.

Bill Moyers: What has been the response to it? Americans don’t like to
confront these pictures, these stories.

Douglas Blackmon: They don’t. But over and over and over again I’ve
encountered people who’ve read the book, who e-mailed me, or they come
up to me after I talk about it somewhere, particularly African-
Americans, who African-Americans know this story in their hearts. They
may not know the facts. They may not know exactly what the scale of
things were. But they know in their hearts that this is what happened.
And so, people come up to me and say, “Gosh, the story that my
grandmother used to tell before she died 20 years ago, I never
believed it. Because she would describe that she was still a slave in
Georgia after World War II, or just before. And it never made sense to
me. And now, it does.”

Bill Moyers: It is amazing that this was happening at a time when many
of the African-Americans retiring today, were children.

Douglas Blackmon: Were children, exactly. Exactly. And so, again,
these are events unlike Antebellum slavery. These are things that
connect directly to the lives and the shape and pattern and structure
of our society today.

Bill Moyers: Does it explain to you why there might be so much anger
in the black community among, let’s say, African-Americans who are my
age, 73, 74, who were children at the time this was still going on?

Douglas Blackmon: Well, there’s no way that anybody can read this book
and come away still wondering why there is a sort of fundamental
cultural suspicion among African-Americans of the judicial system, for
instance. I mean, that suspicion is incredibly well-founded. The
judicial system, the law enforcement system of the South became
primarily an instrument of coercing people into labor and intimidating
blacks away from their civil rights. That was its primary purpose, not
the punishment of lawbreakers. And so, yes, these events build an
unavoidable and irrefutable case for the kind of anger that still
percolates among many, many African-Americans today.

40 Acres and a Mule
BY Gerene L. Freeman  /  01 November 2003

Did you know that “40 Acres and a Mule” was not actually promised to
freed slaves after the Civil War? Well here is the real story of what
happened and how the phrase “40 Acres and a mule” became such a catch
phrase for African Americans?

On March 3, 1865, just weeks before the end of the Civil War and
almost a year prior to the ratification of the 13th Amendment the
Freedmen’s Bureau was created by Congress. Originally the Bureau of
Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, the Freedmen’s Bureau was
responsible for, among other things, “the supervision and management
of all abandoned lands . . .the control of all subjects relating to
refugees and freedmen from rebel States.”

Also according to Section 4 of the First Freedmen’s Bureau Act, this
agency “shall have authority to set apart for use of loyal refugees
and freedmen such tracts of land within the insurrectionary states as
shall have been abandoned or to which the United States shall have
acquired title by confiscation or sale, or otherwise; and to every
male citizen, whether refugee or freedman, as aforesaid there shall be
assigned not more than 40 acres of such land.”

Introduced into Congress by Thaddeus Stevens this portion of the
Freedmen’s Bureau Act was defeated by Congress on February 5, 1866 “by
a vote of 126 to 36.” Lands which had been distributed to freedmen
were reclaimed and returned to the previous owners.

It should be noted that there is no mention of providing the freedmen
with a mule (or any other type of animal) in any portion of this
legislature. So the question remains in part unanswered. What is the
origin of the promised 40 acres and a mule?

The second possibility for the basis of the ‘promise’ has to do with
the efforts of the War Department to furnish accoutrements for the
thousands of freedmen who assisted General Sherman in his triumphant
march across Georgia. According to Claude F. Oubre in his book Forty
Acres and a Mule, General Tecumseh Sherman, acting under an edict from
the War Department, issued Special Field Order No. 15. Promulgated on
January 16, 1865, after Sherman had conferred with 20 black ministers
and obtained the approval of the War Department, Special Order No. 15
provided that:

“The islands of Charleston south, the abandoned rice fields along the
rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering
St. Johns River, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the
settlement of [N]egroes now made free by the acts of war and the
proclamation of the President of the United States.”

The land was then divided into 40-acre tracts. Sherman then issued
orders to General Saxton to distribute the plots and processory titles
to the head of each family of the freedmen. There were no mules
included in the order, so where did the “and a mule” come from?
Shortly after Stanton left, Sherman’s commissary man came to him
complaining that he had a large number of broken down mules for which
he had no means of disposal. Sherman sent the useless animals to
Saxton for distribution along with the land.

“By June, 1865 approximately 40,000 freedmen had been allocated
400,000 acres of land.” However, by September, 1865 former owners of
the land reserved by Sherman “demanded the same rights afforded
returning rebels in other states.”

After Lincoln’s assassination, Andrew Johnson became President. One of
his first acts was to rescind Special Military Order No. 15 because of
the constitutional violations that it created. Former slave owners
were then exempted from the initial general amnesty given to them, and
instead secured special pardons from President Johnson, who broke the
promise made to the freedmen when he ordered the processory titles
rescinded and the land returned to the white plantation owners.
Johnson gave little or no regard to the fate of the former slaves

From the viewpoint of the former slaves, who believed that they were
owed this property, their eviction from land was seen as another
example of ill treatment. The illegality of the promise was not their
concern, but from that late war incident grew an urban legend that
survives into the present day.

Dismayed, like many, Saxton wrote Oliver O. Howard (Commissioner of
the Freedmen’s Bureau) stating:

“The lands which have been taken possession of by this bureau have
been solemnly pledged to the freedmen. The law of Congress has been
published to them, and all agents of the bureau acting under your
order have provided lands to these freedmen . . . . I sincerely trust
that the government will never break its faith with a single one of
these colonists by driving him from the home which he was provided. It
is of vital importance that our promises made to freedmen should be
faithfully kept . . . . The freedmen were promised the protection of
the government in their possession. This order was issued under great
military necessity with the approval of the War Department . . .  More
than 40,000 freedmen have been provided with homes under its promises.
I cannot break faith with them now by recommending the restoration of
any of these lands. In my opinion this order of General Sherman is as
binding as a statute.”

Saxton’s pleas were to no avail. The freedmen were ultimately
summarily removed from the land. There were however, numerous
individuals and organizations which believed the freedmen were
entitled to land. Their conviction in this belief was not easily
thwarted. Between 1865-9 countless alternatives for solving this
matter were proposed and presented to Congress as well as President
Johnson. The motivations for these proposals were as varied as the
propositions themselves. They ranged from a sincere belief that the
freedmen were entitled to land, to fear of violence, resistance to
social, economic and political equality, concern about miscegeny,
attempts to purge the country of the burden of freedmen on the doles,
economic gain and to eliminate any competition they might present for

For instance, quartermaster M.C. Megis devised a plan which would
enable the freedmen to secure land in the South. Simply put he
suggested that:

1) As a condition of receiving pardons, southerners, whose net worth
exceeded $20,000 and were not recipients of an automatic pardon as a
result of Johnson’s amnesty proclamation, give to each head of family
of their former slaves from 5 to 10 acres of land.
2) The freedmen would receive full title to the land with the
stipulation that the land could not be alienated during the life time
of the grantee.

President Johnson chose not to adopt this recommendation. However,
according to Oubre, Megis’ proposal may have been the inspiration for
Thaddeus Stevens’ confiscation plan (one of the many he proposed for
black reparations). Just and well thought out I feel had it been
approved Stevens’ proposal may have provided a more equal distribution
of wealth. The primary points of Stevens’ ‘confiscation plan’
according to Oubre are as follows:

1) The government would confiscate the property of all former
slaveholders who owned more than 200 acres of land.
2) The property seized would have been allocated to the freedmen in
lots of 40 acres.
3) The remaining land would be sold and the monies would be used to
remunerate loyalists whose property had been seized destroyed or
damaged as a result of the war.
4) Any remaining funds would be utilized to augment the pensions of
Union soldiers and to pay the national debt.

Yet another proposal suggested that the government transport the
freedmen west and colonize them along the route of the Union Pacific
Railroad. It was argued that to do so would prove beneficial for the
railroad as well as the freedmen. The freedmen would have their land.
The railroad would have both an accessible labor force and someone to
protect the trains from Indian attack Additionally, adopting this
particular proposal would also bode well for the government.
permitting it to keep its promise to provide land for the freedmen.
Simultaneously, according to Carl Schurz sand John Sprage, “this plan
would serve to remove some of the “surplus” black [people] from the

The American Missionary Association requested, to no avail, that
President Johnson reserve the land promised to the freedmen. If that
was not a suitable option they further petitioned that the freedmen be
provided with transportation to homestead lands in the west and
provided with rations enough to sustain them until crops could be

Concerned with the burgeoning African American population in Virginia,
Orlando Brown proposed, that some 10,000 African American soldiers
stationed in Texas, might be provided with a land bounty in Texas if
they remained there and sent for their families. A similar proposal
was made by “Sergeant S.H. Smothers, an African American soldier from
Indiana serving with the 25th Army Corps in Texas.”

But President Johnson seemed to be determined to make sure that
freedmen received no land. He mercilessly vetoed any proposal having
to do with providing land to the freedmen that reached his desk.
Finally, Congress overrode his veto and passed a bill to extend the
life of the Freedmen’s Bureau. However, it contained no provision for
granting land to the freedmen, other than to provide them access to
the Southern Homestead Act at the standard rates of purchase.


“A natural or Quasi-experiment is a naturally occurring instance of
observable phenomena which approximate or duplicate the properties of
a controlled experiment. In contrast to laboratory experiments, these
events aren’t created by scientists, but yield data which nonetheless
can be used (commonly through the use of instrumental variables) to
make causal inferences. Natural experiments are a common research tool
in fields where artificial experimentation is difficult, such as
economics, cosmology, epidemiology, and sociology.”

Although over 140 years have passed since slaves were emancipated in
the United States, African-Americans continue to lag behind the
general population in terms of earnings and wealth. Both
Reconstruction era policy makers and modern scholars have argued that
racial inequality could have been reduced or eliminated if plans to
allocate each freed slave family “forty acres and a mule” had been
implemented following the Civil War. In this paper, I develop an
empirical strategy that exploits a plausibly exogenous variation in
policies of the Cherokee Nation and the southern United States to
identify the impact of free land on the economic outcomes of former
slaves.  The Cherokee Nation, located in what is now the northeastern
corner of Oklahoma, permitted the enslavement of people of African
descent.  After joining the Confederacy in 1861, the Cherokee Nation
was forced during post-war negotiations to allow its former slaves to
claim and improve any unused land in the Nation’s public domain.  To
examine this unique population of former slaves, I have digitized the
entirety of the 1860 Cherokee Nation Slave Schedules and a 60 percent
sample of the 1880 Cherokee Census.  I find the racial gap in land
ownership, farm size, and investment in long-term capital projects is
smaller in the Cherokee Nation than in the southern United States.
The advantages Cherokee freedmen experience in these areas translate
into smaller racial wealth and income gaps in the Cherokee Nation than
in the South.  Additionally, the Cherokee freedmen had higher absolute
levels of wealth and higher levels of income than southern freedmen.
These results together suggest that access to free land had a
considerable and positive benefit on former slaves.

Melinda C. Miller
email : millermc [at[ umich [dot] edu

These are boom times for the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma. But
bad times for thousands of black Indians battling for tribal
citizenship. Now the Freedmen are turning to genetic science for help.
BY Brendan I. Koerner  /  September 2005

Even by the pancake-flat standards of Middle America, Stick Ross
Mountain is an unimpressive peak. It’s more of a gentle hill, really,
poking out from behind the Wal-Mart just west of Tahlequah, the
capital of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

But to the Cherokee, the 900-foot crest was remarkable enough to be
named for a revered 19th-century member of the tribal council. Stick
Ross is thought to be the illegitimate grandson of Chief John Ross,
who led the tribe along the Trail of Tears. Ross the younger was a
respected Native American and a skilled diplomat who acted as a
liaison between tribes and local townsfolk. “He knew sign language and
spoke Cherokee and Seminole. He was a trapper and a farmer and a
rancher,” says Stick’s great-grandson, Leslie Ross, a 56-year-old
retired civil servant whose greatest joy is recounting the Stick
trivia he learned from his family in Muskogee. “And he was sheriff at
one time, too. He was pretty renowned in Tahlequah.”

Stick may have died an exemplary citizen of the Cherokee Nation, but
he was born into slavery. The Cherokee kept black slaves until 1866,
when an emancipation treaty freed them from bondage and granted them
full tribal citizenship. Known as the Freedmen, these men and women
were embraced by the Cherokee as equals, and often married the
offspring of their former masters. Like Stick, they identified with
local cultures, spoke tribal languages, and took part in tribal
religious rites.

And yet, three-quarters of a century after the death of Cherokee
legend Stick Ross, there’s no room for his great-grandson in the
Cherokee Nation. Leslie Ross has been denied citizenship in the tribe
on the grounds that he is not truly Indian. “They said I don’t have
any Indian blood. They say blacks have never had a part in the
Cherokee Nation,” says Ross, his usually calm voice swelling with
anger. “The thing is, there wouldn’t be a Cherokee Nation if it
weren’t for my great-grandfather. Jesus, he was more Indian than the

Ross is just one of at least 25,000 direct descendants of Freedmen who
cannot join Oklahoma’s largest tribes. Once paragons of racial
inclusion and assimilation, the Native American sovereign nations have
done an about-face and systematically pushed out people of African
descent. “There’s never been any stigma about intermarriage,” says Stu
Phillips, editor of The Seminole Producer, a local newspaper in
central Oklahoma. “You’ve got Indians marrying whites, Indians
marrying blacks. It was never a problem until they got some money.”

These are boom times for the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma – the
Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole – due in no small
part to the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that allowed the tribes
to construct their own casinos. The Chickasaw’s net assets have more
than doubled to $315 million in the two years since it opened the
mammoth WinStar Casinos complex in Thackerville. The corporate arm of
the Cherokee Nation, Cherokee Nation Enterprises, is on track to make
nearly $70 million this year thanks to a new casino in Catoosa. Then
there’s the government reparations fund. In 1990, the Seminoles
received a $56 million settlement as compensation for the seizure of
the tribe’s ancestral lands in Florida almost 200 years ago.

The casino profits and make-good money have increased the standard of
living for the recognized members of the tribes who make their homes
in some of the poorest areas in the US. Cherokee Nation Enterprises
allocates 25 percent of profits to the Cherokee government, which
distributes the money in ways designed to help end the cycle of
poverty – college scholarships, health care, and low-interest home
loans. And the Seminole Nation offers grants for home repairs, which
many of the ramshackle structures in Seminole County can sorely use.
On the outskirts of Wewoka, the county seat, families loll on wooden
porches that seem one gust of wind away from collapse.

And so, in recent years, a rush of Indians has come forward to claim
tribal citizenship and get their share of the benefits. In 1980, there
were 50,000 members of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma; today, there
are more than a quarter million. But even as the official ranks of the
Five Civilized Tribes have swelled, they’ve revised membership
guidelines to exclude the Freedmen.

For the better part of the 20th century, black Indians were permitted
to vote in elections, sit on tribal councils, and receive benefits.
Tribal leaders now insist that the Freedmen were never actually
citizens and that they will never attain the honor of membership
because they don’t have Native American blood. In 1983, the Cherokee
tribe established a rule requiring citizens to carry a Certificate of
Degree of Indian Blood. This federal document is available to anyone
whose ancestors are listed on the Dawes Roll – a 1906 Indian census
that excludes Freedmen. In 2000, the Seminoles expelled all 2,000
black members and denied their families a cut of the reparations money
– never mind that their ancestors joined the tribe in the 18th
century, endured the march from Florida to Oklahoma in the 1830s, and
have considered themselves Indian for generations.

Outraged, numerous Freedmen have turned to the courts for help. In the
most celebrated case, a black tribal leader named Sylvia Davis filed
suit against the Seminole tribe in 1994 to get her son a $125 clothing
stipend from the Seminole reparations money. But US courts have
repeatedly refused to meddle in Indian affairs, noting that the
sovereign nations determine their own membership criteria. Davis
suffered a serious – and perhaps final – setback last year, when the
Supreme Court refused to consider her appeal of a lower court’s ruling
that the Seminoles could not be sued in federal court. (The Bush
administration filed a brief on behalf of the tribe.)

Now, just as the Freedmen’s struggle appears all but lost, new hope is
emerging from an unlikely place – the front lines of genetic science.
Last year, several Freedmen leaders were approached by a molecular
biology professor named Rick Kittles. As head of African Ancestry, a
company he had recently founded to sell DNA testing services to
amateur genealogists, Kittles promised to reveal any customer’s
preslavery roots, whether they stretch to the Tikar of Cameroon or the
Mende of Sierra Leone.

Kittles heard about the Freedmen’s plight from a friend at the
University of Oklahoma and wondered how the black Indians’ genetic
makeup would compare to other subsets of the African-American
population, such as the isolated residents of South Carolina’s Gullah
Islands. He visited the 2004 conference of the Descendants of the
Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, an organization dedicated to
ending “discrimination against people of mixed Indian African
descent,” and offered free DNA tests. There are many light-skinned
tribal citizens with less than 1 percent Indian genetic material; most
Freedmen claim to have at least that much. So they began taking
Kittles’ test in hopes that science would succeed where rhetoric,
litigation, and historical documents have failed.

“It’s important that we be able to establish that we are Indian
people, not just African people who were adopted into the tribe,” says
Marilyn Vann, who is suing the Cherokee Nation for citizenship. “If
you’re the average tribal member, you don’t want to be discriminated
against because you look Indian. So how can you discriminate against
other people just because they have some African features?”

“I have something for you.” A linebacker-sized man with a shaved head
and a disarming smile, Ron Graham is holding a manila envelope stuffed
with hundreds of fuzzy photocopies bearing lists of names and numbers
in chicken-scratch script. He ushers me to an empty table in Dale
Hall, on the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman. We’re here for
the third annual meeting of the Descendants, the highlight of which
will be Kittles’ presentation on the results of last year’s DNA tests.

When he’s not working in a nearby xanthan gum factory, Graham
moonlights as a genealogist-for-hire and vice president of the
Descendants. He specializes in helping African-Americans who believe
their Native American roots have been obscured by a combination of
government racism and tribal avarice. Like Vann, Ross, and Davis,
Graham took a DNA test to help prove his heritage and is in the midst
of suing the Creeks to gain membership. In the final days of August,
just as this issue of Wired hits newsstands, he will present his case,
complete with DNA test results, to the tribal council. Graham believes
that, in the face of scientific evidence, the Creeks will return his

Graham admits that money is a factor in his crusade: His three college-
age sons could benefit from federal scholarships reserved for Native
Americans. But he’s not just looking for a handout. He seeks
recognition as a Creek because that’s how he has always identified
himself. Graham fondly remembers his late father, Theodore “Blue”
Graham, dancing at the stomp grounds near the town of Arbeka, where
Creeks in traditional dress would gather for sacred ceremonies. Blue
spoke Creek fluently and handed down some knowledge of the language to
his son. During one of his citizenship hearings with Creek Nation
officials, Ron was shocked to learn that he was one of the only people
in the room who could recognize the word for girl written in the
tribe’s ancestral language. “My nation won’t accept me because of skin
color,” he says, shaking his head.

Graham leafs through documents that he believes will demonstrate his
ancestors had considerable Creek blood. He shows me a handwritten
testimonial from Keeper Johnson, a full-blooded Creek and member of
the Creek National Council, recognizing Blue as a fellow citizen. “I
have known Theodore Graham since 1946 as a Creek Indian,” the note
reads. “He was traditional and spoke our language fluently. I always
assumed he was Creek decent [sic].” Graham also dredged up documents
known as Proofs of Death and Heirship, which list his father as one-
eighth Indian – 12.5 percent.

Then he flips to his trump card. It reads, “Creek Nation, Creek Roll,
Card No. 191.” The date stamp: Approved by the Secretary of the
Interior March 3, 1902. Above the seal is the name Rose McGilbray.
When it was completed, likely by a clerk working for the Department of
the Interior, McGilbray was 35 years old. In a column headed “Blood,”
the notation says “Full.” “See, this is my great-great-grandmother on
my mother’s side,” Graham says.

It’s official recognition of McGilbray as a member of the Dawes Roll,
a 1906 tally of Oklahoma Indians that is, according to the tribes, the
only acceptable way to document Native American heritage. The Dawes
Roll was the brainchild of a patrician Massachusetts senator, Henry
Laurens Dawes, who wanted to “civilize” Indian territory by ending
communal land ownership and allotting 160-acre plots to individual
members of each tribe. At first, the tribes resisted the white man’s
efforts to destroy a centuries-old way of life. One Creek official
compared the Dawes Commission, which oversaw the roll’s creation, to
the plague of locusts the Egyptians faced in the Bible. But the tribes
relented, if only to avoid a conflict with the US government.

The task of enrolling the Indians was assigned to white clerks
dispatched from Washington. They set up vast tent villages in Oklahoma
towns and sent word through tribal officials that anyone interested in
claiming their land had to register. Once the news spread, the tents
were deluged with applicants, including scores of Caucasians claiming
to have a sliver of Indian blood. More surprising for the clerks were
the thousands of African-Americans who showed up. The 1890 census
counted 18,636 people “of Negro descent in the Five Tribes.” With no
ability to speak any Native American language, the clerks often relied
on the eyeball test. Those who fit the stereotype – ruddy skin,
straight hair, high cheekbones – were placed on the “blood roll.” The
roll noted each person’s “blood quantum,” the fraction of their
parentage that was ostensibly Native American. That number was
sometimes based on documentation, but often, given the lack of
accurate records and the language barrier, it was nothing more than
crude guesswork.

Those with obvious African roots were sent to a different set of
tents. There, they were added to the Freedmen Roll, which had no
listing of blood quantum. Contemporary Freedmen believe the
segregation was part of a government conspiracy to steal Indian land.
Freedmen, unlike their peers on the blood roll, were permitted to sell
their land without clearing the transaction through the Indian Bureau.
That made the poorly educated Freedmen easy marks for white settlers
migrating from the Deep South. Stories abound of Freedmen, unable to
read the contracts they were signing, selling their 160-acre plots for
as little as $15.

Even when a man had an Indian grandparent and should have been
assigned a blood quantum of one-fourth, he might well have been placed
on the Freedmen Roll. The eyeball test sometimes assigned siblings to
separate rolls simply because one was born with less melanin. Full-
blooded women married to black males suddenly became Freedmen with no
blood quantum. It was a wholly arbitrary process, but it didn’t matter
much. Freedmen and Indians continued to live in relative harmony –
until money and politics entered the picture.

Now the Oklahoma Freedmen find themselves haunted by a 99-year-old
clerical error motivated by racism or incompetence, or both. “To this
day, in Oklahoma, we don’t exist, our history doesn’t exist. Everyone
should have the right to reclaim their heritage,” says Anissia Vo. Her
grandfather, a Creek Freedman, said his dying wish was for his entire
family to become recognized members of the tribe. Vo, who lives in
Muskogee, has spent the last four years documenting her heritage and
struggling to get recognition from the Creek government. “My great-
grandfather was born Creek, his birth certificate says he was Creek.
But when he died, he died a black man. It’s upsetting to deal with
someone telling you, ‘We don’t care what you were yesterday – from now
on you’re going to have to be someone else.’ We want them to
acknowledge our existence.”

Even in the rare case that a Freedman can trace an ancestor to the
Dawes Roll, as with Ron Graham and his great-great-grandmother Rose
McGilbray, the tribes find a new way to ensure that the Freedmen are
always the odd men out. The Creek tribal council has so far refused to
believe that Graham is related to McGilbray. Which is why Graham
turned to science in search of irrefutable evidence. His test reveals
that he’s genetically 9 percent Native American. If the tribes insist
that they’ll only accept members who are Indian by blood, he’ll show
them what’s in his blood.

Searching for obscure ancestors once meant combing through the bowels
of the National Archives or sending shot-in-the-dark letters to
strangers who share a last name. Now anyone with a budding interest in
their family tree can order a DNA test kit. Swab the inside of your
cheek, mail the sample to a lab, which searches for variations that
appear in certain ethnicities, and in a few weeks you’ll receive a CD
telling you your great-great-grandmother was born in Senegal. For
those who obsess over matters such as whether their heavy tooth enamel
indicates Creole roots, genetic tests are a quick way to separate
scientific fact from family fiction.

Many of the early adopters shell out a few hundred dollars just to
prove to themselves that their cells are more exotic than their faces.
“Ninety percent of the people interested in Native American ancestry
are people who look as European as could be,” says Tony Frudakis,
chief scientific officer of DNAPrint Genomics, a Sarasota, Florida,
genetic testing company. “They think they might have a Native American
ancestor three or four generations back. We call it the American
Indian Great-Grandmother Princess.”

DNA tests works fine for amateur genealogists, but they’re hardly
foolproof. Two of the three on the market – Y chromosome and
mitochondrial DNA – are limited in scope. The Y chromosome test looks
for variations on just 1.5 percent of a male’s genes. The mtDNA test
reads a mere 0.005 percent of the subject’s genome. While these tests
have shown an ability to identify Native American gene lines, false
negatives are a big problem.

The third type, known as the genome-wide test, has proven more useful
to the Freedmen. DNAPrint’s AncestryByDNA looks across all 23 pairs of
chromosomes for mutations that seem to indicate one ancestry or
another. The company uses proprietary statistical software to estimate
what percentage of a person’s genetic material originated where – 85
percent European and 15 percent East Asian, say, or 60 percent
African, 20 percent Native American, and 20 percent European. “Chief
John Ross was between one-eighth and one-sixteenth Cherokee [12.5 and
6.25 percent],” Leslie Ross says, “and my DNA test said I’m 3 or 4

But even the best tests have large margins of error. “If you show a
positive result of 4 or 5 or 6 percentage points, there’s a
possibility that it isn’t indicating Native American ancestry,”
Frudakis says. People with these levels of Indian blood may simply
have genetic roots in places like Greece or Turkey, whose natives can
convey Indian-ness in their DNA. Pakistanis, meanwhile, typically show
30 percent Native American heritage, for reasons that are not yet
totally clear to scientists.

The more tests that DNA companies conduct, the more data they’ll have
for comparison, which should lead to more accurate results. As the DNA
databases grow, it may be possible to identify ancestry by region –
say, a Southwestern Navajo or a New England Pequot. Kittles’ database
can already name the African tribes an African-American customer
descends from. Still, linking Freedmen to particular tribes remains
tricky because of all the intermarrying that has occurred over the

Even if the testing companies could narrow a person’s origins to a
specific tribe, would it matter? The science might be improving, but
the Indian tribes show no inclination to accept it – or even consider
it. “Our citizenship laws require you to have a Cherokee ancestor who
was on the Dawes Roll. Can a DNA sample prove that?” says Cherokee
spokesperson Mike Miller. “If I did a DNA test, it might show that I
have some German DNA. That doesn’t mean I could go back to Germany and
say, I have German ancestry and I would like to be a German citizen.”

It’s a crude analogy. Germany’s citizenship laws don’t require
applicants to prove that a relative was listed on a flawed census of
people with purported Teutonic blood. And if Miller so desired, he
could become a naturalized German citizen someday. The Freedmen have
no such chance.

Other tribes are just as closed-minded. When I ask Jerry Haney, the
Seminole chief who expelled the tribe’s black members in 2000, whether
he might reconsider his stance based on DNA tests, he huffs. “They can
claim all the Indian they want,” he says, “but they cannot become a
member of the Seminole Nation by blood. They’re down there [on the
roll] as Freedmen. They’re separate.”

Not all tribal members reject the merits of the Freedmen’s cause.
Seventy-year-old John Cornsilk, who is seven-eighths Cherokee, opposed
the 1983 decision to rescind Freedmen’s voting rights – which he said
happened because many Freedmen were backing a progressive candidate
running for chief. Tribal leaders, he says, “colluded and drew up a
new set of rules that said only people that could produce one of those
cards could be a member. What the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has been
doing in regard to disenfranchising the Freedmen is all totally

Cornsilk’s son, David, has taken up his father’s cause. While working
in the tribe’s enrollment office in the 1980s, he found that about a
third of the Freedmen applications had some documented Native American
ancestry. When higher-ups told him that these people could not be
enrolled, he became an advocate for the Freedmen from the inside,
helping black plaintiffs prepare to file suit in tribal courts. “I
came to realize that this was a deep-rooted problem, that racism in my
tribe was profound,” he says. “They were perpetrating a genocide, a
paper genocide.”

Rick Kittles is one of the last speakers at the Descendants
conference. When he steps up to address the crowd, he speaks briefly
about the underlying science. He describes how African genealogy is
relatively easy to trace because of the population’s high number of
polymorphisms – genetic variations unique to a particular group. Then
he gets down to business. He shows charts indicating that African
ancestry in the 95 Freedmen he tested ranged from 4 to 76 percent,
while European ancestry varied from 0 to 62 percent. “Native American
was surprising,” Kittles says as he presses the slide clicker to bring
up the figures that everyone’s waiting for. The range of Indian blood
was from 0 to 30 percent, for an average of just 6 percent – almost
identical to an East Coast African-American population.

The chatter in the crowd stops. Kittles is telling attendees that,
genetically, they are no more Indian than blacks in New York City or
Baltimore. “I expected it to be higher because of the experiences
you’ve had,” he admits. Then he offers a consolation.

He explains that many Freedmen display high levels of European
ancestry, with the group average at 18 percent. He suggests that,
ironically, this might be exactly what links them genetically to the
Five Civilized Tribes. Indians, he explains, were in contact with
white colonists starting in the 17th century, and there has been
significant gene flow between the two groups. As a result, many people
who identify themselves as Native American have very high percentages
of European DNA. East Coast African-Americans show much weaker links
to Europe. So the Freedmen’s levels of white genetic material may, in
fact, be the very proof of Indian-ness that they’re looking for.

To prove this hypothesis, Kittles tells the attendees that more
testing is in order. “If genetics is going to help this cause, we
really need to do tests on so-called purebloods, to assess their
European ancestry,” he says, theorizing that they, too, will have high
levels of European blood. “I think that many of those so-called
purebloods aren’t so pure.”

It’s not the definitive result the audience expected. And yet, some
find good news in the message. The first woman to raise her hand is an
elderly lady in the very last row, wearing a flowing kente cloth
dress. She leans forward in her seat. “I just want to thank you,” she
says as loudly as she can muster. Her test revealed 11 percent Indian
ancestry. “It’s true what my grandmother said, that I did have Native
American blood.”

As I wait for the day’s final speaker, Sharon Lindsay Scott stops by
my seat to say hello. An attractive woman with light skin and
prominent cheekbones, Scott has the sort of face that might have
convinced a Dawes clerk to place her on the blood roll. She tells me
she’s a descendant of the Perrymans, an illustrious Creek family with
a lineage that included a chief in the 1880s, Legus C. Perryman. But
for reasons that are lost to time, her ancestors were made Freedmen.
“You know, the Dawes Commission would take brothers and sisters and
divide them up,” she says. “They went by how you looked, and a lot of
the Creeks are darker-skinned. So you might be a full-blood and …”
Scott trails off in a sad laugh. “I mean, they had no DNA testing back

With Graham’s assistance, she has pulled together copious documents
that attest to her family’s Creek lineage and plans to submit her
application for membership soon. The final piece she’d been waiting
for was Kittles’ DNA test. Now she has it: 79 percent African-
American, 19 percent European, and 2 percent Native American. Which
means her Indian DNA results could very well be just the result of
genetic noise.

The results leave me wondering whether the Freedmen are caught up in a
false hope. Will the intersection of Rick Kittles and a group of
desperate would-be Indians mark a turning point in their struggle for
recognition? Or just another twist in a sad tale? I ask Scott whether
she expects her application to be rejected, considering that her
percentage of Indian blood is smaller than the test’s margin of error.
She seems both surprised and slightly offended: “I don’t see how they

Race is a loaded word that genetic testing companies avoid in favor of
phrases like biogeographical ancestry. No wonder. For centuries,
science has been hijacked to validate racist beliefs. Scientific
journals from the 19th century are replete with discussions of cranial
capacity and brain weight, measurements used to explain why blacks
would never be as intelligent as whites. Then there are eugenics and
social Darwinism, used to twist Darwin’s findings and shape Nazi

But if the young discipline of DNA testing has taught us anything,
it’s that the very notion of race is fading, at least from a genetic
perspective. The world is populated by mongrels and half-breeds. Even
those who base their self-worth on being of “pure” racial stock
probably aren’t. Every family tree has a thousand branches. “The
technology will show how mixed we are,” Kittles says. “There is no
line of distinction you can draw between groups. There will be people
who say they have 100 percent African blood. I can show them that they
have significant European ancestry, too.”

So far, reams of historical documents and legal briefs have gotten the
Freedmen nowhere against a century-old document created by clueless
white bureaucrats and enforced by men the Freedmen once considered
brothers. The question is whether a tool created by molecular
biologists will have any more luck.

There are three types of DNA test designed to pinpoint genetic
heritage. Ranging in price from $99 to $299, all three start with a
swab of the inner cheek and provide results in two to eight weeks.
Here’s what happens along the way.

The Y chromosome method searches for genetic markers on the Y
chromosome. A particular polymorphism, or variation, on the DYS199
locus, for example, is unique to those indigenous to the Western
hemisphere. So anyone with that polymorphism has Native American
ancestry. This test has two problems: It measures only 1.5 percent of
the genome – so you may have Indian genes that don’t show up – and it
works only on males.

To determine maternal lineage, the mitochondrial DNA test looks for
polymorphisms in mitochondrial DNA. All humans have mtDNA, which is
inherited from the mother, so anyone can take the test. But since it
measures just 0.005 percent of the genome, false negatives are a big
problem. Also, mtDNA results will show the presence of, say, European
and Native American genes along the maternal line, but not the
percentages of each.

The genome-wide technique scours the entire genome for “ancestry
informative markers” that indicate “biogeographical ancestry.”
Statistical software then analyzes the data to determine what
percentage of genes comes from where. This is the test of choice for
the Freedmen. The good news is that it’s exhaustive. But it’s also the
most expensive option, and it still can’t trace a Native American’s
roots back to a particular tribe.

There are three types of DNA test designed to pinpoint genetic
heritage. Ranging in price from $99 to $299, all three start with a
swab of the inner cheek and provide results in two to eight weeks.
Here’s what happens along the way.

The Y chromosome method searches for genetic markers on the Y
chromosome. A particular polymorphism, or variation, on the DYS199
locus, for example, is unique to those indigenous to the Western
hemisphere. So anyone with that polymorphism has Native American
ancestry. This test has two problems: It measures only 1.5 percent of
the genome – so you may have Indian genes that don’t show up – and it
works only on males.

To determine maternal lineage, the mitochondrial DNA test looks for
polymorphisms in mitochondrial DNA. All humans have mtDNA, which is
inherited from the mother, so anyone can take the test. But since it
measures just 0.005 percent of the genome, false negatives are a big
problem. Also, mtDNA results will show the presence of, say, European
and Native American genes along the maternal line, but not the
percentages of each.

The genome-wide technique scours the entire genome for “ancestry
informative markers” that indicate “biogeographical ancestry.”
Statistical software then analyzes the data to determine what
percentage of genes comes from where. This is the test of choice for
the Freedmen. The good news is that it’s exhaustive. But it’s also the
most expensive option, and it still can’t trace a Native American’s
roots back to a particular tribe.




The Eruption of Tulsa
BY Walter F. White  /  June 29, 1921

A hysterical white girl related that a nineteen-year-old colored boy
attempted to assault her in the public elevator of a public office
building of a thriving town of 100,000 in open daylight. Without
pausing to find out whether or not the story was true, without
bothering with the slight detail of investigating the character of the
woman who made the outcry (as a matter of fact, she was of exceedingly
doubtful reputation), a mob of 100-per-cent Americans set forth on a
wild rampage that cost the lives of fifty white men; of between 150
and 200 colored men, women and children; the destruction by fire of
$1,500,000 worth of property; the looting of many homes; and
everlasting damage to the reputation of the city of Tulsa and the
State of Oklahoma.

This, in brief, is the story of the eruption of Tulsa on the night of
May 31 and the morning of June 1. One could travel far and find few
cities where the likelihood of trouble between the races was as little
thought of as in Tulsa. Her reign of terror stands as a grim reminder
of the grip mob violence has on the throat of America, and the ever-
present possibility of devastating race conflicts where least

Tulsa is a thriving, bustling, enormously wealthy town of between
90,000 and 100,000. In 1910 it was the home of 18,182 souls, a dead
and hopeless outlook ahead. Then oil was discovered. The town grew
amazingly. On December 29, 1920, it had bank deposits totaling
$65,449,985.90; almost $1,000 per capita when compared with the
Federal Census figures of 1920, which gave Tulsa 72,075. The town lies
in the center of the oil region and many are the stories told of the
making of fabulous fortunes by men who were operating on a shoe-
string. Some of the stories rival those of the “forty-niners” in
California. The town has a number of modern office buildings, many
beautiful homes, miles of clean, well-paved streets, and aggressive
and progressive businessmen who well exemplify Tulsa’s motto of “The
City with a Personality.”

So much for the setting. What are the causes of the race riot that
occurred in such a place? First, the Negro in Oklahoma has shared in
the sudden prosperity that has come to many of his white brothers, and
there are some colored men there who are wealthy. This fact has caused
a bitter resentment on the part of the lower order of whites, who feel
that these colored men, members of an “inferior race,” are exceedingly
presumptuous in achieving greater economic prosperity than they who
are members of a divinely ordered superior race. There are at least
three colored persons in Oklahoma who are worth a million dollars
each; J.W. Thompson of Clearview is worth $500,000; there are a number
of men and women worth $100,000; and many whose possessions are valued
at $25,000 and $50,000 each. This was particularly true of Tulsa,
where there were two colored men worth $150,000 each; two worth
$100,000; three $50,000; and four who were assessed at $25,000. In one
case where a colored man owned and operated a printing plant with
$25,000 worth of printing machinery in it, the leader of a mob that
set fire to and destroyed the plant was a linotype operator employed
for years by the colored owner at $48 per week. The white man was
killed while attacking the plant. Oklahoma is largely populated by
pioneers from other States. Some of the white pioneers are former
residents of Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and other States
more typically Southern than Oklahoma. These have brought with them
their anti-Negro prejudices. Lethargic and unprogressive by nature, it
sorely irks them to see Negroes making greater progress than they
themselves are achieving.

One of the charges made against the colored men in Tulsa is that they
were “radical.” Questioning the whites more closely regarding the
nature of this radicalism, I found it means that Negroes were
uncompromisingly denouncing “Jim-Crow” cars, lynching, peonage; in
short, were asking that the Federal constitutional guaranties of
“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” be given regardless of
color. The Negroes of Tulsa and other Oklahoma cities are pioneers;
men and women who have dared, men and women who have had the
initiative and the courage to pull up stakes in other less-favored
States and face hardship in a newer one for the sake of eventual
progress. That type is ever less ready to submit to insult. Those of
the whites who seek to maintain the old white group control naturally
do not relish seeing Negroes emancipating themselves from the old

A third cause was the rotten political conditions in Tulsa. A vice
ring was in control of the city, allowing open operation of houses of
ill fame, of gambling joints, the illegal sale of whiskey, the robbing
of banks and stores, with hardly a slight possibility of the arrest of
the criminals, and even less of their conviction. For fourteen years
Tulsa has been in the absolute control of this element. Most of the
better element, and there is a large percentage of Tulsans who can
properly be classed as such, are interested in making money and
getting away. They have taken little or no interest in the election of
city or county officials, leaving it to those whose interest it was to
secure officials who would protect them in their vice operations.
About two months ago the State legislature assigned two additional
judges to Tulsa County to aid the present two in clearing the badly
clogged dockets. These judges found more than six thousand cases
awaiting trial. Thus in a county of approximately 100,000 population,
six out of every hundred citizens were under indictment for some sort
of crime, with little likelihood of trial in any of them.

Last July a white man by the name of Roy Belton, accused of murdering
a taxicab driver, was taken from the county jail and lynched.
According to the statements of many prominent Tulsans, local police
officers directed traffic at the scene of the lynching, trying to
afford every person present an equal chance to view the event.
Insurance companies refuse to give Tulsa merchants insurance on their
stocks; the risk is too great. There have been so many automobile
thefts that a number of companies have canceled all policies on cars
in Tulsa. The net result of these conditions was that practically none
of the citizens of the town, white or colored, had very much respect
for the law.

So much for the general causes. What was the spark that set off the
blaze? On Monday, May 30, a white girl by the name of Sarah Page,
operating an elevator in the Drexel Building, stated that Dick
Rowland, a nineteen-year-old colored boy, had attempted criminally to
assault her. Her second story was that the boy had seized her arm as
he entered the elevator. She screamed. He ran. It was found afterwards
that the boy had stepped by accident on her foot. It seems never to
have occurred to the citizens of Tulsa that any sane person attempting
criminally to assault a woman would have picked any place in the world
rather than an open elevator in a public building with scores of
people within calling distance. The story of the alleged assault was
published Tuesday afternoon by the Tulsa Tribune, one of the two local
newspapers. At four o’clock Commissioner of Police J.M. Adkison
reported to Sheriff McCullough that there was talk of lynching Rowland
that night. Chief of Police John A. Gustafson, Captain Wilkerson of
the Police Department, Edwin F. Barnett, managing editor of the Tulsa
Tribune, and numerous other citizens all stated that there was talk
Tuesday of lynching the boy.

In the meantime the news of the threatened lynching reached the
colored settlement where Tulsa’s 15,000 colored citizens lived.
Remembering how a white man had been lynched after being taken from
the same jail where the colored boy was now confined, they feared that
Rowland was in danger. A group of colored men telephoned the sheriff
and proffered their services in protecting the jail from attack. The
sheriff told them that they would be called upon if needed. About nine
o’clock that night a crowd of white men gathered around the jail,
numbering about 400 according to Sheriff McCullough. At 9:15 the
report reached “Little Africa” that the mob had stormed the jail. A
crowd of twenty-five armed Negroes set out immediately, but on
reaching the jail found the report untrue. The sheriff talked with
them, assured them that the boy would not be harmed, and urged them to
return to their homes. They left, later returning, 75 strong. The
sheriff persuaded them to leave. As they complied, a white man
attempted to disarm one of the colored men. A shot was fired, and
then–in the words of the sheriff–“all hell broke loose.” There was a
fusillade of shots from both sides and twelve men fell dead–two of
them colored, ten white. The fighting continued until midnight when
the colored men, greatly outnumbered, were forced back to their
section of the town.

Around five o’clock Wednesday morning the mob, now numbering more than
10,000, made a mass attack on Little Africa. Machine-guns were brought
into use; eight aeroplanes were employed to spy on the movements of
the Negroes and according to some were used in bombing the colored
section. All that was lacking to make the scene a replica of modern
“Christian” warfare was poison gas. The colored men and women fought
gamely in defense of their homes, but the odds were too great.
According to the statements of onlookers, men in uniform, either home
guards or ex-service men or both, carried cans of oil into Little
Africa, and, after looting the homes, set fire to them. Many are the
stories of horror told to me–not by colored people–but by white
residents. One was that of an aged colored couple, saying their
evening prayers before retiring in their little home on Greenwood
Avenue. A mob broke into the house, shot both of the old people in the
backs of their heads, blowing their brains out and spattering them
over the bed, pillaged the home, and then set fire to it.

Another was that of the death of Dr. A.C. Jackson, a colored
physician. Dr. Jackson was worth $100,000; had been described by the
Mayo brothers as “the most able Negro surgeon in America”; was
respected by white and colored people alike, and was in every sense a
good citizen. A mob attacked Dr. Jackson’s home. He fought in defense
of it, his wife and children and himself. An officer of the home
guards who knew Dr. Jackson came up at that time and assured him that
if he would surrender he would be protected. This Dr. Jackson did. The
officer sent him under guard to Convention Hall, where colored people
were being placed for protection. En route to the hall, disarmed, Dr.
Jackson was shot and killed in cold blood. The officer who had assured
Dr. Jackson of protection stated to me, “Dr. Jackson was an able,
clean-cut man. He did only what any red-blooded man would have done
under similar circumstances in defending his home. Dr. Jackson was
murdered by white ruffians.”

It is highly doubtful if the exact number of casualties will ever be
known. The figures originally given in the press estimate the number
at 100. The number buried by local undertakers and given out by city
officials is ten white and twenty-one colored. For obvious reasons
these officials wish to keep the number published as low as possible,
but the figures obtained in Tulsa are far higher. Fifty whites and
between 150 and 200 Negroes is much nearer the actual number of
deaths. Ten whites were killed during the first hour of fighting on
Tuesday night. Six white men drove into the colored section in a car
on Wednesday morning and never came out. Thirteen whites were killed
between 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. O.T. Johnson,commandant of
the Tulsa Citadel of the Salvation Army, stated that on Wednesday and
Thursday the Salvation Army fed thirty-seven Negroes employed as grave
diggers and twenty on Friday and Saturday. During the first two days
these men dug 120 graves in each of which a dead Negro was buried. No
coffins were used. The bodies were dumped into the holes and covered
over with dirt. Added to the number accounted for were numbers of
others–men, women, and children–who were incinerated in the burning
houses in the Negro settlement. One story was told me by an eye-
witness of five colored men trapped in a burning house. Four burned to
death. A fifth attempted to flee, was shot to death as he emerged from
the burning structure, and his body was thrown back into the flames.
There was an unconfirmed rumor afloat in Tulsa of two truck loads of
dead Negroes being dumped into the Arkansas River, but that story
could not be confirmed.

What is America going to do after such a horrible carnage–one that
for sheer brutality and murderous anarchy cannot be surpassed by any
of the crimes now being charged to the Bolsheviki in Russia? How much
longer will America allow these pogroms to continue unchecked? There
is a lesson in the Tulsa affair for every American who fatuously
believes that Negroes will always be the meek and submissive creatures
that circumstances have forced them to be during the past three
hundred years. Dick Rowland was only an ordinary bootblack with no
standing in the community. But when his life was threatened by a mob
of whites, every one of the 15,000 Negroes of Tulsa, rich and poor,
educated and illiterate, was willing to die to protect Dick Rowland.
Perhaps America is waiting for a nationwide Tulsa to wake her. Who

Colombia’s bullet-proof tailor

There may be few advantages to living in a country with an international reputation for violence, kidnapping and murder, but a Colombian tailor appears to have found one. Based in Bogota, Miguel Caballero’s eponymous company constructs clothes which help protect the wearer against bullets, knives and other weapons. As well as domestic customers such as Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, Mr Caballero has made good use of Colombia’s notoriety to build up an international base – now boasting President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and the Prince of Spain as clients. The selling point? “If this products functions in Colombia, you have the guarantee it will stop any type of bullet in any place in the world,” the tailor told BBC World Service’s Outlook Programme. And the security conscious who also fear frumpiness need not worry. Mr Caballero’s clothes, he declares, combine protection with panache.

Lighten up
Mr Caballero said that the idea came to him while still at university. He was inspired when he saw the lack of protective clothing worn by the bodyguards of one of his fellow students. “All the time, those guys did not use the best, because it was very uncomfortable and very heavy,” he explained. “They used leather jackets and suede jackets. I came up with a way to put the two characteristics together – security and fashion.” Miguel Caballero began by making bullet-proof leather and suede jackets, but the company has now expanded to other clothes, including raincoats, blazers, and other tops.

Colombian police
Also available are protective shorts – specially designed underwear which protects against knife attacks to sell to prison wardens. “After we designed this line, we made a T-shirt that stops the knife in the same way,” Mr Caballero said. He said that the clothes are designed for different people – VIPs, bodyguards, and those who wanted to dress safely but also casually. The weight of a protective jacket has been brought down from 4.5 kilos 10 years ago to 1.2. It can withstand ammunition from weapons including a 9mm, a .44 Magnum, and a 3.57 revolver. The products are tested by the staff themselves, in what Mr Caballero – called “demonstrations.” He has himself been shot at in three such tests. “All the new employees have to take part in a real demonstration,” he explained. “You have to believe in our products.”



Among the other Daylight items in the show are performance accoutrements, such as dance masks and leg bands, recalling the transforming spectacle of humans who summon mythology into their mortal being and breathe continuity into their living stories. A marvelous Bamana warrior’s tunic from the BMA’s holdings, one of the most appealing I’ve encountered, is laden with gre-gre, or charms, protected front and rear. Fetish power in African culture is hierarchical. If one dons a warrior tunic in preparation to defend or subjugate an opponent–who also wears and carries fetish charms–his gre-gre are attached to assure his success. They are to the assailant spirits what a spear is to the body. Sewn-on mica or mirror bits reflect evil and fear back to the rival; pouches of herbs, or the hair, bones, or nails of a strong animal or a fierce warrior, or even a loved one, function to overwhelm the force of the opponent’s fetishes. And, lest we forget, Roman Catholic churches honor this same tradition, placing a small fragment of a saint in a reliquary to bless and empower the structure and those who worship in it, or providing their faithful with scapulars–prayer pouches to wear around the neck.

In Foreign Parts: Magic of Mayi Mayi proves a potent force for Congo’s warriors
BY Declan Walsh  /  8 February 2003

Inside a church nestling among the hills of eastern Congo, a venerable warrior gives a rare audience. He is talking about politics, war and why he is invincible to gunfire. “I am a Mayi Mayi general so I carry the gris-gris [magic charms],” declares General Jeannot Ruharara, a whiskery, weatherbeaten man. “They protect against snakes, lightning, disappearance – and, of course, bullets.” He has a wooden staff in one hand and a mobile phone in the other, but the tools of his magic are pinned to his chest like medals of honour. It is a selection worthy of a Shakespearean cauldron – tail of buffalo, claw of eagle and horn of antelope but also cola nuts, dirty feathers and plastic beads. He reaches into the hairy confusion, pulls out a dark phial, and smiles. “This is the maji”, he says. The maji – Swahili for water – had been blessed at a ceremony in the mountains. It will be sprinkled on his troops moments before they enter battle, he says, and then they will be invincible to enemy bullets. “Even shells and rockets,” he chuckles.

The four century old struggle for the Americas, as waged by the original inhabitants, often involved the use of magic. In 1519, when the conquistadors were encamped on the Mexican coastline, Montezuma’s first attempts to thwart the white intruder were magical. The emperor’s wizards infiltrated the camp of Hernando Cortes and attempted to use magic against the Spaniards. The spells of the Aztec wizards failed; they returned to Montezuma II and stated, “We are not equal contenders.” Amerindian magic failed to stop the conquistadors.

The English colonizers also experienced Native American resistance by magical means. The early English settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, had its existence challenged by the powerful Powhatan confederacy. Powhatan priests were in the forefront of the conflicts because of their alleged ability to see the future, to discern secrets, to change the weather, and to use magic to fight enemies. In 1611, a battle ensued between English arquebussers and Amerindian bowmen. An Amerindian priest saw arrows bounce off the English armor, and seeing that the English guns needed sparks to fire, he decided to help his side with magic. “The wonder-worker ran the length of the battlefield, rattle in hand, and attempted to invoke the rain gods. Unfortunately, the only rain observed by the English fell miles away, keeping the English powder dry, and the Amerindian bowmen at a most serious disadvantage!

In 1621, Nemattanew, a Powhatan war leader, claimed immunity from English gunfire, using a magic body oil. Nemattanew was fatally wounded, but to preserve the myth of immunity for his followers, he requested to be buried among the English. Despite the inability of magic oil to stop lead balls, the Powhatan belief in their shamans’ magic remained unshaken, and belief in divining an enemy’s intention was high. Ever slowly, as the colonists gained the upper hand in the Eastern woodlands, the shamans lost face in the eyes of their people because of their continued failure to combat European weapons and diseases. The shamans thought their magic failed because the English were “strange.”

The Amerindian use of magic in warfare continued until the end of the nineteenth century. The Western Apache employed charms to keep bullets from harming their warriors. The leaders of war parties believed that their protective charms, as they rode ahead of their men, would keep the bullets from going past them to harm the warriors bringing up the rear. These practices weren’t new among the Amerindians. Specifically, shamans were thought to be immune to bullets; they were even thought to have the ability to catch bullets! However, magic charms couldn’t protect Indian warriors from modern military arms.

The Amerindian belief in magic lost battles. During the summer of 1857, this was evident with a major Cheyenne defeat along the Solomon River. A troop of United States cavalry, three hundred strong, faced an Indian band of equal number. The commanding army officer expected the Indians to flee, but the mounted warriors had washed their hands in a magic lake. A shaman had promised that the lake’s waters would protect the warriors from bullets. The cavalrymen charged with sabers and the braves fled the battlefield. Why? The magical water shielded the warriors from bullets, not the cavalrymen’s unsheathed sabers!

How much of the Amerindian resistance was driven by a belief in the magic power of shamans is the subject of heated debate. The historical evidence points to the inefficacy of the seers, and the shamans, to alter a tragic fate by the use of charms, or any other sympathetic magic. There can be no better example of the tragedy brought about by magical thinking than the 1890 American Indian battle at Wounded Knee. Nearly two hundred Indian men, women, and children were felled by the Hotchkiss guns of the U.S. Army, despite the alleged supernatural ability of “ghost shirts” to ward off bullets.

From Simbas to Ninjas: Congo’s Magic Warriors
BY Richard Petraitis  /  2003

In 2002, a lightly-armed band of Congolese rebels attacked a capital city airport in a desperate bid to seize a vital military target. They wore magic charms across their bare chests to ward off government bullets. A firefight erupted with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) soldiers who shredded any belief of magical protection for the Congolese rebels. The “Ninjas,” as they called themselves, were killed, one by one, going down in a hail of lead. Sixty believers in paranormal powers soon lay dead, or dying, across the blood-stained runways.[1] Once more, witchcraft, protective charms, and magic spells, proved fruitless against modern military arms.

Despite History’s long record of defeats for those who embrace magic as martial strategy, young African men still line up as recruits in answer to the witch doctor’s siren call for magic wars. This small scale, urban, Ninja rebellion recently wound down with the Ninja rebels either making peace with the current regime, or choosing to die in street battles. However, the dangers from those believing they can effect violent political change, via paranormal powers, still confront the Peoples of the Congo. Even more urgent for the embattled Kinshasha regime, the Congo’s eastern provinces are being moved toward a state of complete anarchy by the war waged by a magic militia called the Mai-Mai (translated as “powerful water” in Swahili). These teenage, antigovernment rebels hail from a primitive society of tribal hunters. The Mai-Mai rebels are a manifestation of an ailing society rooted in animism and witchcraft beliefs.

Since August of 1998, a rebellion against the Kinshasha government has raged across the vast expanse that is the Congo. Several African nations were immediately drawn into the vortex of a bloody civil war within the DRC. Directly, and indirectly, nearly 2.5 million lives were lost before the fighting subsided. In 2002, an official withdrawal of foreign soldiers refueled a massive struggle for territory and resources between local rebel armies and militias.[2]

This war torn area is fertile in animistic beliefs, giving birth to the now infamous “Mai-Mai” militia movement. The child soldiers of the Mai-Mai believe they are immune to combat death because of their magical ability to repel bullets–after fighters are anointed with protective water nostrums by their witch doctors! Members of this magic militia also believe other weaponry fired at them, such as rocket-propelled grenades and mortar shells, will fail to cause them harm. Why? Because the Mai-Mai rebels believe, assured by magic men of the village that such airborne projectiles will turn into water. These tribesmen believe so fervently in the sacred water’s supernatural protection that they sport water-related objects, such as shower hoses or drain plugs, while marching into battle! Crowns made from green vines are worn into battle as an added magical aid to achieve invisibility.[3]

Despite the promises of village witch doctors, the gods of war have not been kind to these young fighters. Many young rebels have been mown down by automatic weapons fire when bullets, fired their way, failed to transform into harmless drops of H2O. The usual excuses for battlefield fatalities given by the Mai-Mai cadres to any wavering recruits is that the deceased parties failed to observe all the necessary special rituals. Mai-Mai cadres also excuse battlefield deaths as accidental by claiming Mai-Mai bullets gone astray can’t be stopped by the same magic![4] Many of the young Mai-Mai rebels have little education in an area of the globe pregnant with belief in spells and spirits; they are the perfect malleable recruits for men like Mai-Mai commander Joseph Padiri–who currently controls an area three times the size of Rwanda![5] Minds that embrace irrational beliefs are subject to manipulation by charismatic opportunists who recruit children into their conflicts. Mere boys toting rifles and wearing magic charms, at times stoked on hemp and cocaine, the Mai-Mai recruits dream of the ultimate victory promised to them by village elders and witch doctors alike, but often find death instead.

Mai-Mai fighters, who hold a fierce reputation as ritual cannibals, usually engage their enemies by entering a battle with singing and dancing, secure in their magical beliefs of protection from danger. Confidence, irrational or not, has been a factor in this particular conflict, sometimes playing on the fears of the opposition soldiers. According to an Associated Press (AP) report, one military commander even thought it necessary to trot a captive Mai-Mai boy out for public execution in order to vanquish his soldiers’ fear of Mai-Mai supernatural invincibility.[6] But any Mai-Mai gains in warfare can be credited to the Western science that produced their small arms, and perhaps also to the reckless bravery of these witchcraft warriors – not tribal magic!

Unbelievably, the Mai-Mai originally fought with bows and arrows at the start of their nearly ten year old rebellion. When magic water, and oils, failed to completely protect the fighters, as promised by the tribal magic men, astute militia commanders probably decided some modern arms might help the cause. However, the Mai-Mai fighters aren’t the only magic warriors to bring the horrors of warfare and accompanying atrocities into the lives of the Eastern Congo’s civilians.

In January of 2003, credible reports surfaced of a rebel group committing atrocities against the Pygmy Peoples of the eastern DRC. A UN commission further verified these atrocities to include eating the body parts of murdered Pygmies to “gain strength” (that is obtaining the life “energy” of an enemy for enhancement of supernatural battlefield strength by the ingestion of key human organs such as the human heart; a practice tied to witchcraft beliefs prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa).[7] Witnesses have exposed the rebel groups involved in these witchcraft-inspired crimes as the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), headed by Jean-Pierre Bemba, and the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD-N), led by Roger Lumbala.[8]

Some readers may ask, “How can these events still be occurring in the Twenty-First Century?” The reasons for the magic wars in central Africa may lie in a complex mixture of cultural, societal, and religious forces. Though it may be hard to ascertain all the causes of supernaturally-based wars, I know, by being a student of world events, this is not a first time such wars have exploded in the Congo. Nor will it be the last.

In July, 1964, a rebellion began in the former French Congo (Eastern Congo) ignited by the abuses of the newly established Congolese central government. The cadres of the rebel movement were leftist in ideology, but most of the rank and file was composed of spear-toting tribesmen from the Kivu and Orientale provinces. Many of the tribesmen were illiterate and they came from a tradition steeped in primitive animist beliefs. Rebels were promised immunity to bullets by witch doctors. The tribesmen were told by the magic men they would be transformed into “Simbas” (the Swahili word for lions) when entering battle.[9] Astonishingly, the Simbas managed to intimidate two heavily-armed battalions of government commandos into a retreat without battle. The victorious Simbas began to capture local capitals and soon, within weeks, half the Congo was in their hands. The major city of Stanleyville fell when the 1500 man government garrison fled, abandoning their armaments–which included mortars and armored vehicles. The national troops had been scared into headlong retreat by witch doctors charging with only forty Simba fighters! No bullets were fired by the Simba rebels, but the witch doctors frantically waved palm branches as a part of their supernatural arsenal.[10]

Unfortunately, Simba rule turned out to be not as comical, but quite cruel in administration. During the rebel rein, hundreds of Westerners, and Westernized elites, were massacred. (A figure of 10,000 civilians killed by Simbas seems to be a generally accepted number.) The magic warriors’ victories were stunning, especially given the fact that Simba rebels had no air force. Furthermore, the Simbas were hampered by a reluctance to fight at night or during a rain storms – the times that rebels believed their magic powers would vanish.[11] Despite their initial successes, successes which were undoubtedly inspired by the bullet-repelling recipes of the witch doctors, a counteroffensive backed by America and Belgium began to roll back the rebel forces.

A new Prime Minister, Moise Tshombe, was installed to head the Congo’s government and a force of Western mercenaries was quickly raised to fight the Simbas. In the fall of 1964, Stanleyville was recaptured by a joint Belgian-American paratroop drop. Unlike the Congolese government soldiers, when paratroopers were charged by a band of Simba fighters at the battle for the Stanleyville airport, (a charge led once again by a witch doctor), there was no panic found among the Belgian paratroopers who annihilated the rebels with automatic weapons fire.[12] Within the city of Stanleyville, over a thousand European hostages were freed with the defeat of defending Simba forces. For the Simbas, this major battle was decisive and the war started to take a nasty turn for the worse.

Within days, CIA donated and piloted aircraft, (B-26Ks and T-28s), strafed Simba units found in the open. Fifty-caliber cannons and 70mm wing-mounted rockets inflicted devastating casualties on the rebel columns, which failed to disperse even when under relentless air attack.[13] The Simbas lacked antiaircraft guns, and the rebel fighters didn’t use camouflage for concealment of positions, to the further great advantage of counterinsurgency pilots. However, one unfortunate CIA pilot was captured, killed, and eaten after his plane crashed.[14] (This is not unlike today’s MLC and RDC-N tribal fighters who believed that eating the vital organs of one’s enemy confers supernatural strength in battle.) Tshombe’s mercenary forces soon captured town after town from the less-disciplined Simba militias. One factor in the Western-aided military success was a lack of belief on the part of the counterinsurgency forces in the supernatural abilities of the Simba warriors. By the end of 1965, the Simba rebellion was well on its way to total defeat.

The final figure for Simba dead is unknown but thought to be in the thousands. Superior military arms and military discipline prevailed against an undisciplined, magically-thinking foe. The Simba rebellion was crushed in two years by brute military force, but certain magic wars have nevertheless had an unusual longevity on the African continent. Or is it the magical thinking of many Sub-Saharan Africans which has shown the greater endurance? Will history simply repeat itself for the Mai-Mai rebels and the other magic militia of the Congo? Will these mystical warriors in the Cradle of Civilization soon suffer tragic battlefield fates? I suppose we will have to wait and see what the future holds for those who stake their lives on the existence of a spirit world which they believe can be manipulated by magico-religious ritual means.

Sources Cited:
[1] “Sixty Ninjas Killed Attacking Airport,” Exploding Cigar, July 16, 2002.
Accessed on 12/21/2002 at http://www.exploding
[2] “January 2003 News Monitor,” Prevent Genocide International Report
Accessed on 02/22/2003 at
[3] Michael Combs, “The Tragic Tale of the Mayi-Mayi,” Associated Press, 1996.
Accessed on 02/22/2003 at
[4] “Children fight in Zaire” (a compilation of news reports, including Associated Press clippings.)
Accessed on 02/01/2003 at
[5] O’Reilly, Finbar. “Mai-Mai threat emerges from Congo jungle hideouts,” Reuters, Oct.21, 2002.
[6] Michael Combs, “The Tragic Tale of the Mayi-Mayi” Associated Press. 1996.
Accessed on 02/22/2003 at
[7] “UN team investigates reported atrocities in eastern DR Congo,” AFP, Jan.10, 2003
Accessed on 02/22/2003 at
[8] “Pygmies demand a tribunal for crimes against them in Uturi,” IRIN, Jan. 28, 2003
Accessed on 02/22/2003 at
[9] “Rural Insurgencies: The Second Independence,” Library of Congress, 1993. Based on information from Herman Kinder and Werner Hilgemann, The Anchor Atlas of World History, 2. Garden City, New York, 1978, p. 268.
[10] Randy Moorehead, “Operation Dragon Rouge,” (Historical notes and with detailed map of the Battle for Stanleyville). A good account of the battle where Belgium’s Red Berets trounce the surprised Simba forces. 1995. Corroborates details of battle kept in U.S. military archives.
Accessed on 03/02/2003 at
[11] Richard L. Holm, “A Close Call in Africa: A Plane Crash, Rescue, and Recovery”
Accessed on 01/26/2003 at
[12] Randy Moorehead, “Operation Dragon Rouge,” (Historical notes and with detailed map of the Battle for Stanleyville). A good account of the battle where Belgium’s Red Berets trounce the surprised Simba forces. 1995. Corroborates details of battle kept in U.S. military archives.
Accessed on 03/02/2003 at
[13] Robert Craig Johnson, “Heart of Darkness: The Tragedy of the Congo,” 1960-67 Eagle Droppings, the Newsletter of the Rocky Mountain Chapter, IPMS/USA. 1997.
Accessed on 03/08/2003 at An excellent detailed account of military action during the Congo Crisis. Provides detailed drawings of the CIA aircraft, (including the squadron markings of the famous Black Bull of Congo’s Mikasa beer) used to crush the Simba Revolt. Interesting factoids about how the mercenary forces turned bad in the aftermath of the successful government counteroffensive and the CIA use of Cuban pilots from the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.
[14] Richard L. Holm, “A Close Call in Africa: A Plane Crash, Rescue, and Recovery”
Accessed on 01/26/2003 at

Black Weatherproof disguised Bullet/Stab-proof jacket

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The armour protects against 9mm Full Metal Jacket Round Nose (FMJRN) projectiles, with a weight of 8gm (124gr) at 430 m/s. Full Metal Jacket Round Nose (FMJRN) type DM11A1B2 (DN or MEN) projectiles with a weight of 8gm (124gr) at 415m/s. 44 Magnum jacketed Soft Point (JSP) type Norma 11103/61103 projectiles with a weight of 15.6gm (158gr) at 390 m/s. 44 Magnum Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) projectiles with a weight of 15.6gm (240gr) at 430 m/s. Eastern European Tokarev LC 7.62 x 25mm steel core projectile with a weight of 5.5gm at 455 m/s.

This jacket also protects against stabs, cuts, slashes with sharp and blunt edged weapons like hypodermic needles, ice picks, knives and broken bottles up to 25 Joules according PSDB (2003). This is a mans outdoor jacket made of 100% Polyester Canvas with PU-coating on the reverse. It has a waistband with a pull-chord and velcro fastening at the sleeve ends. It is supplied with a detachable hood. Available in sizes small to XXL in Black only.”

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From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]


“In 1908, Luederitz was plunged into diamond fever. People rushed into
the Namib desert hoping to make an easy fortune and within two years,
a town, complete with a casino, school, hospital and exclusive
residential buildings, had been established in the barren sandy
desert. The diamond-bearing gravel was screened and washed in huge
recovery plants. Over 1 000 kg of diamonds were extracted before World
War I. However, the amount of gemstones greatly diminished after the
war. Furthermore, considerably larger diamonds were found to the south
near Oranjemund, causing Kolmanskop to become a ghost town.

The weight unit for diamonds is called a “carat”. One carat equals
approximately 0.2 grams. In Elisabeth Bay, located nearly 30
kilometres from Kolmanskop, about 1000 carats, that is around 200
grams, of raw diamonds were extracted daily. To achieve this, many
waggon loads of diamond-bearing sand and gravel had to be brought in
to the recovery facilities. The material was then screened and washed
in huge drums.

Normally, 10 tons of sand contained only 1 to 2 carats of diamonds.
Today, Elizabeth Bay, like Kolmanskop, is a ghost town. However,
although very picturesque, the place is only allowed to be visited
with a special permit. Because a new recovery plant began operation
nearby, Elisabeth Bay is situated in a strictly guarded diamond zone.
Visitors who apply for a permit must prove that they have no criminal





“A hundred years ago, three quarters of the Herero people of the
German colony of Namibia were killed, many in concentration camps.
Today, the descendants of the survivors are seeking reparations from
the German government. This film tells for the first time this
forgotten story and its links to German racial theories.”


On 2 October 1904 the German commander, General von Trotha issued the
following proclamation:

“I, the great general of the German troops, send this letter to the
Herero people… All Hereros must leave this land… Any Herero found
within the German borders with or without a gun, with or without
cattle, will be shot. I shall no longer receive any women or children;
I will drive them back to their people. I will shoot them. This is my
decision for the Herero people.”


“The Herero were the first ethnic group to be subjected to genocide in
the twentieth century. In 2001, the Herero became the first ethnic
group to seek reparations for colonial policies that fit the
definition of genocide. The Herero are the latest plaintiff to use the
procedures of the Alien Torts Claim Act of 1789 to seek reparations in
a US federal court for war crimes committed overseas. This article
analyzes the legal arguments by Hereros against Germany within the
context of current understandings of international law and identifies
the challenges that lie ahead for this claim. The article also
explores the implications of the Herero claim for other ethnic groups
victimized by colonization.”


Its Past on Its Sleeve, Tribe Seeks Bonn’s Apology
BY Donald G. McNeil Jr.  /  May 31, 1998

Asked where he got his traditional Herero dress hat, Alexander
Tjikuzo, 63, answered, ”My grandfather left it to me.”

What is unusual about the old khaki hat with the round gold badge is
that it is an imitation of those worn by the German soldiers who from
1904 to 1907 nearly wiped out the Herero tribe, which dominated what
is now central Namibia. Locally, Mr. Tjikuzo is said to have one of
the snappiest German uniforms that the Hereros wear on Red Flag Day
and Heroes Day, when they visit the graves of their chiefs here.

It was in this sleepy farm town in 1904 that the Herero finally
exploded. For 20 years, German settlers moving inland had been
stealing land and cattle, raping women, lynching men with impunity and
calling them ”baboons” to their faces. When the Herero attacked,
they killed all the men, but on the orders of their leader, Samuel
Maherero, spared women, children, missionaries and the few English and
Afrikaner farmers.

When word reached Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin, the counterattack was
brutal and quickly expanded into slaughter, which some later saw as an
ominous portent of the Holocaust. In a bizarre twist, many racist
theories adopted by Hitler were being formed at roughly the same time
here by a visiting geneticist.

In this age in which national apologies are demanded, in which
President Clinton expressed regret for slavery on a trip to Africa and
German leaders have gone down on their knees to Jews and Poles for
World War II, the Herero are asking for their turn. Germany seems to
be wavering on the edge of apologizing and even paying reparations,
but the politics of modern Namibia — the former German colony of
South-West Africa — complicate matters.

The historical facts are not disputed. Lieut. Gen. Lothar von Trotha,
notorious for his butchery in German East Africa, was dispatched with
10,000 volunteers and a battle plan.

Von Trotha pushed the Herero guerrillas and their families north to
Waterberg and then attacked from three sides, leaving one exit: the
Omaheke Desert. When the Herero fled into it, he poisoned the water
holes, erected guard posts along a 150-mile line and bayoneted
everyone who crawled out.

He then issued the Vernichtungsbefehl, or extermination order:
”Within the German borders, every Herero, whether armed or unarmed,
with or without cattle, will be shot. I shall not accept any more
women or children. I shall drive them back to their people —
otherwise I shall order shots to be fired at them.”

The remaining Herero were rounded up and sent to labor camps, where
they starved or died of overwork, typhus and smallpox.

By 1907 the order had been denounced and von Trotha had been recalled
— but the rebellion had been crushed. Before the war there were
80,000 Herero. In the 1911 census, 15,000 were found.

Few people outside southern Africa or Germany have heard of the tribe
unless they have read Thomas Pynchon’s novel ”Gravity’s Rainbow” or
seen travel books depicting their unusual clothes.

In Mr. Pynchon’s 1973 novel, a psychedelic take on World War II during
the rain of German rockets on London, a fictional Herero battalion
called the Schwarzkommando runs rocket batteries in the occupied
Netherlands. Historians say they are a figment of Mr. Pynchon’s
imagination. The tiny numbers of black Germans, descendants of French
African soldiers occupying the Rhineland after World War I, were
sterilized by the Third Reich, not drafted.

The unusual clothes are another issue. Alone in Africa, Herero women
habitually wear hoop skirts. They adapted their high-waisted dresses
and hats that jut out like cattle horns from the wives of Victorian-
era missionaries. On holidays they wear versions of the dress in red
and black, the colors of Herero nationalism — and of the 19th-century
German Empire. Their men wear the German volunteers’ uniform.

German diplomats are always invited to Herero celebrations. ”We are
treated like V.I.P.’s and often asked to give the keynote speech,”
said one diplomat, who confessed that he is baffled by the practice.

The peculiar attraction between the Herero and Germans here resembles
the one in the Natal region of South Africa between the Zulus and
British, two other peoples who fought a brutal colonial war.

”It’s the respect of a soldier for a soldier,” explained Kuaima
Riruako, paramount chief of the Herero. ”We never gave up our army,
even during the German period.” The chief is a leader in the quest
for reparations.

But the links are much closer. Because many Herero women were forced
into sexual slavery to survive after the rebellion, many Herero today
have German ancestors, and German is widely spoken here.

Those relationships later helped underwrite Nazi pseudoscience used to
justify the Holocaust. Eugen Fischer, a University of Freiburg
geneticist, studied mixed-race children in the colony and concluded
that each was physically and mentally inferior to his or her German
parent. Hitler read his book, ”The Principles of Human Heredity and
Race Hygiene,” while in prison in 1923 and used its notions of
subhuman races in ”Mein Kampf.” Under Hitler, Fischer was named
rector of the University of Berlin and in 1934 taught the first course
for SS doctors.

”This was the peak of scientific racism,” said Frank Chalk, co-
director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights

Now the Herero are a minor tribe, greatly outnumbered by the northern
Ovambo people, who were beyond German reach in colonial days but led
the fight against white South African rule, which ended victoriously
in 1990. The governing party, the South-West Africa People’s
Organization, is dominated by Ovambo and many Herero belong to the
opposition, so the Government does not back their quest. Per capita,
Namibia gets more German aid than any other country — $350 million
since 1990 — but almost every pfennig is spent in Ovambo areas.

Another Herero leader, Mburumba Kerina, says his people do not want
cash but ”a mini-Marshall Plan” to get businesses started, and
scholarships to German universities.

”Helmut Kohl came here in 1995,” Mr. Kerina said, ”but he refused
to see us.” Mr. Kerina led protests.

In March, President Roman Herzog of Germany visited and the issue was
raised anew, with different results. Calling the massacre ”a dark
chapter in our bilateral relations,” Mr. Herzog declined to
apologize, but came close in saying that the colonial authorities had
”acted incorrectly” and that the killings were ”a burden on the
conscience of every German.”

He said international laws requiring reparations were not in place in
1907, but he promised to take the Herero petition to Bonn.

One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he would not be
surprised if some aid were forthcoming, although it would never
formally be called ”reparations” and paying one tribe might offend
others. The Nama, for example, rebelled after the Herero did and lost
50 percent of their population. But they never faced a written
extermination order.

A further complication is the nervousness of the country’s small but
economically powerful white German-speaking population.

”It wasn’t our generation that did it,” said Eberhard Hofmann,
editor of Allgemeine Zeitung, a local paper. ”It’s like the biblical
quote — the sins of the fathers being paid for by the children. If
you asked all the Germans in Namibia today, I’d say the majority would
not want reparations.”

Since any apology and money would come from modern Germany itself, the
issue would seem to make no difference to Mr. Hofmann’s subscribers.
But their real fear is land rights. Half of Namibia’s 1.7 million
people are impoverished and living in crowded tribal areas, while
German-speaking ranchers own millions of acres seized 90 years ago.

”We want reparations to buy land and give it to people who need it,”
said Chief Riruako. ”We don’t want to seize it the way they’re doing
in Zimbabwe. I don’t want to destroy.”

Efforts to win apologies gain strength when abuses on one side of the
world are mirrored on another. Mr. Kerina, who like many Herero has a
German grandparent, is delighted that Japan apologized for having kept
Korean women as army sex slaves during World War II.

”I thought, hey, that’s my grandmother — a comfort woman,” he said.
”And I thought, if the Japanese could pay for that, the Germans


“In the early 1900’s, things seemed very different, At the beginning
of the 20th century diamonds were discovered in the desert area just
outside Lüderitz. Sometimes these diamonds lay fully exposed on top of
the sand. This caused a diamond rush from all over the world and the
once desolated lonely desert was engulfed with the influx of fortune

Out of this desert grew the elegant town of Kolmanskop, which included
facilities like a casino, theatre, skittle alley, butchery, bakery,
soda water and lemonade plant, swimming pool and a hospital with the
first x-ray machine in the Southern Hemisphere. Some 700 families
lived in the town, including about 300 German adults, 40 children and
800 Owambo contract workers.

Each morning the ice – vendor came down the streets, which were even
then smothered with sand, to deliver the daily ration of ice blocks
and cold drinks to each household. Wages were good and virtually
everything was free, including company houses, milk deliveries and
other fringe benefits. Large metal screens around the gardens and
corners of the houses helped to keep the sand at bay and a sand-
clearing squad cleared the streets every day.

Shortly after the drop in diamond sales after the First World War and
the discovery of richer deposits further south at Oranjemund, the
beginning of the end started. So within 40 years the town was born,
flourished and then died. One day Kolmanskop’s sand-clearing squad
failed to turn up, the ice-man stayed away, the school bell rang no
more. During the 1950’s the town was deserted and the dunes began to
reclaim what was always theirs.

Soon the metal screens collapsed and the pretty gardens and tidy
streets were buried under the sand. Doors and windows creaked on their
hinges, cracked window panes stared sightlessly across the desert. A
new ghost town had been born.

A couple of old buildings are still standing and some interiors like
the theatre is still in very good condition, but the rest are
crumbling ruins demolished from grandeur to ghost houses. One can
explore the whole area within the fences and it creates the perfect
set up for good photographic opportunities.

It is important to buy special permits before visiting the town.
Permits can be bought from the travel agency next to Pension Zum
Sperrgebiet in Lüderitz. The area is still mined and it is part of the
‘Sperrgebiet’ (Restricted Area). Visitors who apply for a permit must
prove that they have no criminal record.

Tourists must provide their own transport from the town. To get to
Kolmanskop, drive east on the B4 from Lüderitz for some 10 km and turn
south on a well sign posted road. English and German tours are
conducted from Monday to Saturday at 9h30 and 14h00.

The other ghost town in the Namib Desert is Elizabeth Bay, but
tourists are not allowed to visit it.”