The Clement Payne Movement was established more than 20 years ago in Barbados as a democratic socialist, Pan-Africanist and anti-imperialist campaign group. It is been vociferous in its criticism of NATO’s bombing campaign in Libya. Commonwealth Correspondent Craig Ghunta, 23, from Jamaica, went to meet its leader, Mr David Commisiong.
On August 17, celebrated internationally as Marcus Garvey’s birthday, I participated in a peaceful pro-Libya protest against US/NATO bombing and aggression in the sovereign North African nation.
Organised by the Clement Payne Movement, roughly sixty-five Pan-Africanists marched from the US Embassy in Widley and ended at the British High Commission in Lower Collymore Rock, St. Michael, Barbados.
Leader of the CPM, David Comissiong, handed over letters to British High Commissioner Paul Brummel and the US Embassy’s head of security, George Gaines, in which the CPM called for the immediate cessation of the US/NATO assault on Libya as well as for the immediate intervention of the African Union to bring a definitive end to the crisis.
The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 on Libya permits the protection of civilians ‘by any means necessary’ in the event of civil unrest, but not annihilation or allowing rebels to slaughter government officials or enforce regime change.
I sat down with and questioned David Comissiong, Lawyer and Pan-Africanist, about the march, pro-Libya activist Minister Louis Farrakhan and his views on the US/NATO assault on Libya.
Ghunta: Speak to me about the purpose of the march. Were you satisfied with the turnout/support?
Comissiong: The purpose of the march was ultimately to add to the pressure that the governments of the US, Britain and France are now experiencing in relation to their hostile military policy towards Libya. We sense that the resolve of these three nations is currently under stress. France has begun to talk of the possibility of a solution that entails Gaddafi remaining in Libya. Obama is under pressure from the Republicans over funding for this war and the British have admitted that they would be hard-pressed to sustain their military expenditures after September of this year. So we felt this was a critical juncture at which to apply whatever little pressure we could apply from Barbados. We were conscious that we did not have enough time to properly educate the Barbadian people about the issue and to thereby garner large mass support. So that was not our intention. We understood it was going to be the committed Pan-Africanists and that the effects of it were going to be directed not so much internally but externally to the US and British establishments. Part of our timing was designed to follow immediately a large protest rally that was staged in the US on the 13th of August. We were satisfied with the outcome, we had the type of participation that we anticipated and we delivered the message to the best of our ability at this time.
Ghunta: What is the mandate of the Clement Payne Movement?
Comissiong: The Clement Payne Movement has been in existence since 1988, it is named after Clement Osborne Payne, a National Hero of Barbados and a famous labour activist and leader of the 1930s labour rebellions throughout the Caribbean. It is a community based organization that pursues democratic socialist, Pan-Africanist and anti-imperialist agendas.
Ghunta: What do you think about how the police treated the protesters on the day, in particular to their restriction of the number of placards the marchers could carry; prohibiting the singing of songs and entry of the protestors onto the compounds of the American Embassy and the British High Commission?
Comissiong: The police were obviously motivated by some ill-conceived idea that they needed to protect the American Embassy and the British High Commission from the marchers. The police behaved as though they were dealing with some irresponsible, unstable group of persons, who were likely to cause some form of national embarrassment, hence their overwhelming numbers, their heavy-handedness and their attempt to impose ridiculous restrictions on the protest activity. We were disappointed in the police; particularly in light of the fact that Barbados has a well established tradition of peaceful demonstrations and that the march was being led by well known and responsible public figures. We did not permit the police heavy-handedness to divert us from our objectives and aside from the fact that we did not go as close to the US Embassy as we wanted to, we achieved everything else that we set out to do.
Ghunta: What in your opinion is the real reason for the US/NATO assault on Libya?
Comissiong: One reason could be as simple as embarrassment. Let us recall that the people, in January of this year…in North Africa and the Middle East started to rise up against a succession of United States supported dictatorial regimes. There was Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Bahrain, and Yemen, one after the other. The West and in particular the US faced the embarrassment of having popular uprisings against dictators that it has supported…in one case as long as thirty years. And in the case of Bahrain, an uprising in a country in which the US Fifth Fleet is headquartered, and so it is possible that the Americans came to the conclusion that embarrassment had to be alleviated by ensuring that there were also uprisings against regimes that were not in the western care.
We should also bear in mind that for a very long time the US and other western powers had regarded Gaddafi and Libya as their enemy and here was now an opportunity to orchestrate an assault against a traditional enemy. We also need to bear in mind that the western world is in a severe economic crisis and that Libya is the possessor of tremendous petroleum resources as well as the owner of billions and billions of dollars and finally, another possible factor is that Gaddafi has been the driving force behind the establishment of the African Union. Libya is the chief financier of the AU and the western powers are aware that continental African unity constitutes a threat to continued western exploitation of Africa.
Ghunta: Yes, but the US/NATO began their military assault against Gaddafi’s forces under the pretext that he was mass murdering unarmed, harmless civilians.
Comissiong: This business about Gaddafi murdering his people was orchestrated. Gaddafi for a long time now and the Libyan government have faced a violent military threat coming from Islamic fundamentalist elements stationed in the city of Benghazi. This is nothing new. These hostile elements are mujahedeen fighters who were trained and used by the United States against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and who after the defeat of the Soviet army in Afghanistan migrated to many counties in North African and the Middle East including Libya.
So what happened was that these radical elements in Benghazi launched a military attack on the state security forces, that is the police and the army and when the government forces counterattacked, the western media propagandised this as an attack by the Libyan government against peaceful unarmed civilians. Making it seem that the situation in Libya was the same as the situation in Egypt and Tunisia, but this was clearly not so. There is no evidence that this conflict started as a result of the Libyan government attacking and killing peaceful unarmed civilian protestors. Of course, once the conflict spiralled into a full-fledged civil war, you began to have civilian causalities on both sides.
Ghunta: Do the United States/NATO have the moral authority to restructure Libya’s political system on the grounds of lack of respect for human rights, humanitarianism and democratic governance?
Comissiong: Just the opposite. Anybody who knows the history of Libya knows that Libya has made tremendous material and social progress under the Gaddafi regime. When Gaddafi removed the autocratic monarch of Libya and instituted a more people oriented government, Libya was regarded as one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Under Gaddafi’s regime, Libya has risen to be the country with the highest standard of living in the whole of Africa.
In Libya, there is free and universal access to healthcare, education and housing. Libya has also worked out its own system of people participatory government, based on the extensive use of community and regional councils. Libya was not a country that featured the kinds of poverty, social exclusion and alienation that characterised countries like Egypt and Tunisia. There is virtually nothing that the west can teach Gaddafi’s Libya. Gaddafi’s Libya has much greater standards of equality, sharing of resources and social integration than the United States, Britain and France.
Ghunta: Minister Louis Farrakhan made a speech at a press conference in Harlem on June 15, 2011 in which he called US/UN/NATO and others a ‘united coalition of demons’ against Libya – what do you to think of that indictment? How would you characterize Farrakhan?
Comissiong: I can agree with that assessment once we apply the term demon not to the people of these countries but to the ruling establishments that have launched this evil, unprincipled and destructive assault on Libya. And I would also say that I think Minister Farrakhan on this particular issue has been courageous and inspiring.
Ghunta: This is the second assassination attempt that I know of by the West on Qaddafi, following a failed attempt in 1986 in which one of his daughters died; do you think the West will be satisfied with anything but his early and ultimate death?
Comissiong: This is actually the third. Some years ago, British intelligence also attempted the assassination of Gaddafi in his hometown of Sirte, working through an Al-Qaeda cell. They succeeded in blowing up a motor vehicle. They thought Gaddafi was inside, fortunately he was not. Many Libyans were blown up in the assassination attempt. Whether or not they will succeed on this occasion is left to be seen.
Gaddafi and the Libyan government have done extremely well thus far in holding the world’s most powerful military forces at bay. And we should remember that Gaddafi is an old soldier and also a Bedouin of the desert who is well versed in the strategies of warfare and military subterfuge. It is also clear that Gaddafi and the regime maintain the support of a substantial majority of the Libyan people. Two-thirds of whom live in the capital city of Tripoli. He could not hold the powerful western powers at bay for this long if he did not have the majority of the people on his side.
Ghunta: “Has the United Nations lost it legitimate right to exist?” Farrakhan asked this question and I am asking you. What in real terms, in your view does the UN represents?
Comissiong: The United Nations has permitted itself to be shamefully used by these western powers. It is clear that what these western powers are doing is outside of the parameters of Unites Nations Security Council Resolution of 1973, and indeed in flagrant violation of the said resolution. In spite of this, there has been no effort by any organ of the UN to protest or correct this abuse. So it is legitimate to ask the question as to what is the use and value of an institution that would allow its name and authority to be perverted and abused in this manner and yet do nothing about it.
The truth is that the real power in the UN is the Security Council and the five permanent members (US, UK, France, China and Russia) who dominated the Security Council and all five members are now state capitalist regimes, and all have a vested interest in accessing, controlling and exploiting the resources on the so called third world; so unless we reform the UN and strip away the power of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the institution will become more and more an institution of imperialist domination.
Ghunta: Do you think that America and Israel will ever go before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes?
Comissiong: The tragedy of the International Criminal Court is that it was the brainchild of Caribbean political leader, A.N.R Robinson of Trinidad and Tobago. Of all the institutions that Mr. Robinson could spend his time and brain power conceiving, he chose to conceive an international criminal justice institution that was always going to be a tool in the hands of the powerful western nations against the entities that they consider to be their enemies.
We should recall that the US has refused to accept that any American citizen can be brought before the ICC, yet the same American government has been instrumental in bringing the leaders of other countries before the ICC. So the ICC has turned out to be just another cog in the international mechanism of western control.
Ghunta: After you handed over the second and last letter at the British High Commission, you seemed, based on the speech you gave to the small group of protestors, to have resigned subsequent actions of the US/NATO to ‘chance’ and ‘hope’ – hope that they’ll do something to end the atrocities they are committing against Libya.
Is this sufficient to create a meaningful impact? And you said Garvey would be proud of the outcome on the day, but is this so, since he remarked that ‘chance has never yet satisfied the hope of a suffering people…’? What do you think is the real achievement of the day of protest?
Comissiong: We have to be humble enough and realistic enough to recognize that we are a small country contributing our modest effort to a larger international campaign to avert a looming disaster. So it makes no sense to fool ourselves to be overly optimistic. We know that Libya is facing the most powerful military forces on earth and that it is not going to be easy to defeat these forces. But it is not impossible and all of us must simply do our duty as we conceive it.
We recognize that when you are confronting a great power you always have to give them a way out, a way to save face even while they back down and one of our contribution is to inject a face-saving proposal into the approach that we are urging to the US and Britain, that is, for them to turn the matter over to the African Union which since the 10th of March has declared that they accept the responsibility for negotiation and peacefully resolving the internal conflict. So our attitude is to do our duty, to make constructive contribution to the finding of a solution, but at the same time to acknowledge the enormity of the forces that we are facing, as well as the fact that our effort is one component of a much larger international effort.
Ghunta: How should other citizens of the Caribbean react to the US/NATO ‘imperialist aggression’ against Libya and how should regional governments deal with the matter? What in concrete terms can/should the Caribbean African Diaspora do to blunt this particular imperialist exercise in Libya?
Comissiong: We hope that our Caribbean brothers and sisters will see the effort that we have made in Barbados and that they will do similar protest marches and other protest activities in their countries. If this were to happen it would send a very serious message to the US and British governments that there is a pervasive groundswell of popular opposition to what they are doing.
This will be much more powerful that just an isolated Barbados protest. By now the CARICOM countries should have taken a very clear and firm position against this unlawful military attack by the West and should have spoken very loudly and clearly in denunciation of these western powers. They have not done so; all they have done is to issue a very wishy-washy comment that is hidden away in the last paragraph of the communiqué that was published after the recent CARICOM meeting in St. Kitts. In addition to a strong CARICOM statement, the CARICOM countries should be seeking to work in co-ordination with the countries of Africa and Latin America to convoke a special session of the United Nations General Assembly as is permitted under the UN Charter, to deal with the question of the illegal attack of Libya by the West.
The individual governments on Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Guyana and Suriname and the countries that contain US embassies and British high commissions should call in the relevant commissioners and express to them directly our disapproval of their action in relation to Libya.
FREE LIBYA by Ghunta
A phalanx of pirates parading as princes
Are pillaging Libya’s dreams
Shattering the soul of Africa’s union of hope,
To rape more, steal more, until Africa shrivels to threads.
Fiats mean nothing to this concourse of thieves,
What then is the UNSC resolution of 1973?
‘Just time and white processed trees,
With wasted ink and vague words set to deceive;
A license to annex Libya,
Slaughter her leader and change regime’
Three generations, alive – though now stalked by fear
Their sisters already dead, collateral damage,
Burnt skulls branded forever
With the cachet of NATO’s bombs and bullets
Permanently engraved, in graves and memory
Yet Libyans will not truckle to bombs
Not to chaos, nor to lasting rage,
Nor to western hands, hastily laying columns of thievery and lies.
Libya, a bastion of home rule, will live as free men do
“I grew up in a small bucolic village called Pell River, in western Jamaica. I have been to many mountain tops in my 23 years – seen many things, tasted many things, conquered many things.
“I studied public relations and history at the University of the West Indies, Mona. I am an intern at the moment in the Spice Isle, Grenada, working the Roving Caregivers Programme which provides early childhood stimulation for economically deprived infants and toddlers. I want to be an anthropologist, focusing on literacy, peace and reconciliation.”
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
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