Saturday, April 17, 2010

Popular rebellion in Kyrgyzstan shakes up Pentagon

Popular rebellion in Kyrgyzstan shakes up Pentagon

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For eight and a half years, the U.S. military has been at war in Afghanistan — the longest war in U.S. history, against one of the poorest countries in the world. The Pentagon has sent a growing force there — the number of troops tripled after the Democratic Party won the presidency — and built up bases in the region in order to keep the flow of warm bodies and materiel moving from the U.S. to Afghanistan.

The largest transit base in recent years has been in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian nation of 5 million people that was formerly the Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzia. Last month alone, nearly 50,000 U.S. military personnel transited through the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan going to and returning from Afghanistan.

Regardless of who was in the White House, who headed the State Department or the Department of Defense, or what U.S. polls showed about the attitude of the people here toward the war, the plans made at the Pentagon for moving troops and supplies to Afghanistan continued on schedule.

Until April 7. Then near-panic reigned in Washington — enough for the Pentagon to announce it was stopping flights into and out of Manas for 12 hours. They were resumed, but on April 9 Major John Redfield, a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command, announced that the U.S. military in Kyrgyzstan had decided “to temporarily divert military passenger transport flights” away from the Manas base. (Reuters, April 10)

This development has exposed the vulnerability of U.S. imperialism and its war plans at a time when mass struggles are raging in several countries against the dire impact of the global capitalist economic crisis.

What happened in Kyrgyzstan to shake up the Pentagon? Tens of thousands of people risked their lives in a militant, popular uprising. They brought down a corrupt government that had enjoyed a cozy relationship with the U.S. military, while cutting its people’s standard of living to starvation level.

Here are some of the facts that have come to light:

• Now-deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who got into office through a Western-engineered “Tulip Revolution” in 2005, had early in his term threatened to terminate the base’s contract. But the U.S. agreed to raise the rental price from $20 million to $60 million. And, in a side agreement not made public until now, it worked out a deal whereby the president’s brother sold jet fuel to the U.S. occupiers at a profit of $10 million a month — which works out to twice the money paid to the government of Kyrgyzstan. A former U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, Chuck Squires, was hired to handle the contract. (New York Times, April 12)

• While feathering his own family’s nest, Bakiyev raised the price of state-supplied heat, electricity and hot water this January from 170 percent to 400 percent. In a country where close to half the people live below the poverty line and winter temperatures drop to below zero Fahrenheit, this was like a death sentence for many, who had to choose between food and heat. The huge increase left some people having to spend 80 percent of their income on heat and light.

When Kyrgyzia was part of the Soviet Union, it received fuel oil and other essentials at a subsidized price from the central government. In effect, it and other southern republics benefited from an affirmative action program meant to bring up their economic development closer to the national level.

Once the USSR was broken up into small competing countries and capitalism was restored, the standard of living for the working people in these areas plummeted. The privileged, however, were now free to become “entrepreneurs,” which usually meant attaching themselves in some way to the rapacious interests of imperialist corporations, which bribed officials to open their doors to the unbridled exploitation of an area rich in natural resources. This is the main source of the corruption now endemic in the governments of these small countries.

The people of Kyrgyzstan could take it no longer. On April 7 they surrounded government buildings in the capital, Bishkek, and refused to disperse. On the orders of President Bakiyev, troops fired into the crowds, killing at least 75 people and wounding hundreds more. However, the people did not retreat and ended up taking over the government buildings as the army and police broke ranks.

The uprising spread throughout most of the country, overthrowing officials of the old regime.

An interim government has been formed headed by Roza Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister. Bakiyev has fled to southern Kyrgyzstan and refuses to step down.

The new government sent a delegation to Moscow seeking economic assistance from Russia. It says that its first priority is dealing with the economic hardships the people face and that it has no immediate plans to cancel the contract that leases Manas Air Base to the Pentagon.

But the people’s mandate is very clear — and Washington is very worried.

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