Sanctions and embargoes are increasingly being used in international conflicts as methods of warfare which frequently produce horrifying results. In Bosnia, a long-standing embargo prevented Muslims there from receiving arms and sustenance as Serb and Croatian forces practiced genocide there for years. Iraq's people are undergoing immense hardship due to the sanctions imposed there. Thousands of people are going blind in Cuba due to the quarantine imposed on that island nation by the United States. Due to an external blockade, thousands of children, old people and people with curable diseases are dying.
The context for the continuing assault on Libya is one in which no country can decide its destiny for itself or disregard American plans for the fate of its own people. Libya has formed a target of opportunity for U.S. assaults since it broke the shackles of dependence on Sept. 1, 1969. On that date, a revolution led by a young junior officer named Mu'ammar Qadhafi succeeded in overthrowing the Senoussi monarchy and announced its determination to change the course of poverty, dependence and humiliation which had been the lot of the Libyan people in this century.
Libya had experienced over three decades of Italian colonial rule from 1912 until World War II, when the U.S.-led allies swept the Italian and German presence out of North Africa. After the war, Libya was granted independence, with King Idris installed as a compliant regent with a demonstrated propensity to take orders from the U.S. and Britain. The U.S. maintained a huge Air Force base near Tripoli, the Libyan capital, with the British holding on to their military barracks at Azizia.
When oil was discovered, the oil companies moved in to drive a hard bargain with the monarch. The royal retinue would batten off a small part of the proceeds while the conglomerates made off with the wealth generated by Libya's new found natural resource. The Libyan people, who had suffered to the tune of having over one million of their number killed in the resistance to Italian colonization earlier, continued to live in makeshift shacks and lean-tos while a small, Westernized elite tried to emulate their benefactors.
Muammar Qadhafi brought a number of notions with him which were unacceptable to "American interests." He propagated the idea that all people have a right to self-determination, and should be supported in their quest to realize sovereignty over themselves and their lands. Oil wealth was not to be given - away-to-multinational corporations abroad, but used to improve the living standard of the nation's own people.
The inequities promoted by the Western powers were to be rejected in favor of a society in which justice, equity and a high standard of living for all citizens was to be built. Popular forms of direct democracy, in which the entire population could participate in decision-making, were created. In steps which would benefit the country but simultaneously draw the wrath of the U.S. and others, Libya nationalized the oil companies and drove the foreign bases away from its soil. Wheelus Air Force Base, a major American military installation located on the Mediterranean Sea just east of Tripoli, was shut down.
To make matters worse for Libya, it chose to pursue an active foreign policy entailing support for national liberation and social justice movements around the world. All parties and groups fighting for the liberation of apartheid South Africa were given aid and training. Peoples ranging from the Muslim Moros of the Philippines to the Indians of the Americas drew vocal and material support from Tripoli, the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, Grenada's New Jewel Movement led by Maurice Bishop, the IRA in northern Ireland, the Basques, the Kurds, the Palestinians and many others found a friend and a base of sustenance in the new Libyan Jamahiriya ("gathering of the people"). It was political and economic defiance of the U.S. which put Libya and Qadhafi on the hit list of those countries slated for death and destruction in what is now called the "New World Order."
Libya has been repeatedly attacked ever since it took its bold stand on behalf of those silenced majorities who suffer the consequences of U.S. hegemony. American jets repeatedly attacked Libya during the reign of Ronald Reagan. An attack on Tripoli and Benghazi in April 1986 claimed more than one hundred lives, including that of Qadhafi's stepdaughter. It was one of many attempts made on the Libyan leader's life, all of them failing, as his continued presence makes clear. The Libyan revolution is hanging on after 25 years of resistance to constant attacks of all sorts, ranging from internal CIA subversion to armed attacks over it 10 cities.
The CIA and the State Department issued periodic scare stories which are disseminated by their accomplice media to keep Libya in the public eye as a "terrorist" threat to the well-being of Americans. At one point in the build-up to the 1986 bombings, Libyans were alleged to be infiltrating the U.S. via Tijuana to assassinate Reagan and otherwise wreak havoc on America. Columnist Jack Anderson was exasperated that he had been used as a conduit for this false information, declaring that he had been "spooked by the spooks." At other times, CIA disinformation had Libya manufacturing chemical and even nuclear weapons, promoting all forms of "terrorism" around the world and stirring up trouble where there was none previously to be found.
Domestically, the Libyan experiment in social equity greatly disturbed their ex-patrons. Such notions as "The house to those who live in it" are anathema to a country that has over five million homeless persons residing in it, as the U.S. does now. The idea that emancipation from want, ignorance and injustice was to be actually implemented somewhere is unacceptable to an entity that foments poverty and dependence everywhere. Libya, a nation of some four million people, over half of whom are under 15 years of age and spread out over 680,000 square miles of Sahara Desert-dominated North Africa had become a perpetual target for the bellicose designs of the U.S.-led "New Order."
The Lockerbie Pan Am crash formed the most recent cover for action against Libya. Even though all evidence pointed to Syria as being the perpetrator of the bombing, and a Hollywood movie even made the case against Syria and Iran, attention shifted to Libya as the culprit when a tiny electronic chip was "found" by investigators in April 1990, over 16 months after the calamity. This tiny, thumbnail-sized chip was alleged to be part of the radio which contained less than a pound of plastic explosive, enough to scatter the contents of the plane over 845 square miles of Scottish countryside.
It so happened that the U.S. was building its coalition to destroy Iraq in Desert Storm at the time. Syria was one of the prime components of the force, joining Egypt, the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia in turning on their Arab compatriots, who had made the mistake of ignoring U.S. wishes by annexing Kuwait. Iraq and Saddam Hussein were the new targets of opportunity along with Libya. All was forgiven with their new-found ally, Syria.
After "going over" the evidence once again, the investigators decided to pin the blame for Pan Am 103 on Libya, specifically charging two Libyan airline employees with involvement in the act. The U.S. and U.K. further demanded that the two "suspects" be handed over for trial to them. The Libyan government has refused, suggesting the International Court of Justice as a fairer tribunal to judge the case. What are termed "limited sanctions" have been in place against Libya since April 15, 1992, served up by a United Nations Security Council which is increasingly compliant with U.S. demands.
Meanwhile the ongoing terrorism against Libya has continued unabated. One hundred and fifty eight people perished in the crash of a Libyan civilian airplane near Tripoli on December 22, 1992. Twenty years earlier, another Libyan civil airliner was blown out of the air over Egypt by Israeli forces. Continuing efforts to organize and equip groups inside Libya to overthrow Qadhafi have met with the usual lack of success. The Libyan people, especially the younger generations, do not want to return to the pre-Jamahiriya era in which squalor and misery prevailed. Giant strides in education, housing, medicine and agriculture have taken place in a country in which the literacy rate has increased tenfold since the revolution.
The Libyan people are suffering as a result of the "limited" sanctions. Thousands of people have not been able to travel abroad for medical treatment of grave illnesses and have died as a result. Hundreds of medical personnel have been prevented from entering the country. Traffic accidents and deaths have doubled due to the increase in highway traffic caused by the shutdown in international air travel which the sanctions enforced. Over $1 billion has been lost to Libya in agricultural and livestock production. In all, over 10,000 lives have been needlessly cut short.
According to U.S. policies, the Libyan experiment can not be allowed to work. It may influence others to emulate its example, or, more precisely, set about their own independent course of development. The sanctions weapon, used "successfully" in Cuba, Iraq and Nicaragua in recent years, is a relatively "cost-free" method of bringing populations to heel.
The danger of Arabs, Africans and Muslims getting together must also be averted in the calculations of U.S. policy makers. Libya happens, to be a nation whose people match all three descriptions. It will remain a perpetual target of opportunity until it ceases and desists in trying to create a just society at home and in supporting struggling people around the world in their aspirations for self-determination.
The above is from The Final Call, 11 January, 1995.