Free Markets, Slavery, and Bush


Psychological and physical torture is an integral component of Sudanese slavery. Of the former slaves we have interviewed extensively, more than 70 percent of the females over the age of 10 reported being raped by their masters. More than 90 percent of all freed slaves claim to have been beaten frequently. Forced conversion to Islam is commonplace, and many said they witnessed executions of disobedient slaves. —John Eibner, Christian Solidarity International, International Herald Tribune, June 11, 2002

The globalization of free markets has become a secular religion for evangelists like George W. Bush and, of course, the American-based international corporations who preach that in the great getting-up morning, in the great glory and prosperity of free trade, even China will release its prisoners of conscience.

At a June 5 hearing of the House International Relations Committee—neglected by the great majority of the press—the Bush administration’s utter reverence for unfettered capitalism was dramatically revealed. At center stage was Walter Kansteiner, assistant secretary of state for African affairs. Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee wanted to know why the Bush administration continues to fervently oppose an amendment to the Sudan Peace Act that passed the House by a vote of 422 to 2 last year.

The author of the amendment, Spencer Bachus of Alabama, a conservative Republican (with an American Civil Liberties Union rating of zero), is appalled by the enslavement of black Christians and animists in the south of Sudan, implemented by the National Islamic Front government in the north.

The ravages of slavery in the south have been compounded by ethnic cleansing in areas where the Khartoum government, in partnership with international oil companies, is reaping large and growing profits from the oil fields. Aware of that, Bachus came up with the only realistic way to convince the National Islamic Front to end slavery.

His amendment prohibits foreign companies from raising capital in the United States—among other things, from trading their securities on the stock exchange—so long as these corporations are in business with the Sudanese government in oil development.

When the Bachus amendment passed the House so overwhelmingly, James Buckey—head of Canada’s Talisman Oil, a major partner of the Sudanese government—conceded that the bill would have its desired effect. “I don’t think anybody could afford not to have access in the U.S. market,” he said. “No asset is worth that.”

And Reuters quoted Michael Young, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, who pointed out that “the only way to get Khartoum’s attention is to curtail its oil revenues—the only asset that is keeping it from bankruptcy.”

The Bachus amendment was stalled in the Senate by order of the White House. Tom Daschle, Democratic leader of the Senate, did not offer a word of protest. On September 11 last year, a coalition of black clergy, members of Congress, white evangelicals, and such human rights activists as Nina Shea of Freedom House and radio host Joe Madison were about to lead a massive protest to the White House. But the terrorists crashing airplanes into the World Trade Center intervened, and George W. Bush figured Bachus’s threat to free markets was dead.

But the anti-slavery forces have not given up, and—as Vicki Allen of Reuters reported—at the June 5 hearing, Bush’s man on the State Department’s Africa desk, Walter Kansteiner, was asked to justify the White House’s killing of the Bachus amendment in the Senate last year.

Said Kansteiner: “When you can politically determine what companies can list on your stock exchange, that has long-term implications. . . . It sends all the wrong signals to the bourses all around the world and those who control [them].”

California Democrat Tom Lantos, a fierce human rights advocate, asked, “Are you living in this world, Mr. Kansteiner?” Referring to the National Islamic Front’s making a pretense of seeking an end to hostilities with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in the south while declaring a continuing jihad against blacks, Lantos told Kansteiner: “Khartoum is playing the game of peace while conducting a vicious war of annihilation. . . . As long as the oil revenues flow to Khartoum, there is little to push the government of Sudan to negotiate peace.”

Republican Chris Smith of New Jersey joined in: “In any war, what you try to do is starve the aggressor of his lifeline, his fuel line. I’m a free-market guy to a large extent, but when it comes to a country that has killed 2 million people,” how can free markets take precedence?

Also covering this hearing was Jim Lobe of IPS (Inter Press Service). He noted a telling exchange between Kansteiner and Colorado Republican Tom Tancredo (another conservative).

“Isn’t there some point,” Tancredo asked Kansteiner, “where we say this has gone far enough [to justify capital market sanctions]?”

Said the loyal member of the Bush administration: “I’m sure there is, but this isn’t it.”

If the Senate does pass the Bachus amendment, at what point would George W. Bush sign it into law? Would the horrors of Sudan have gone “far enough” if the militia from the north ate the enslaved black women after they had gang-raped them? There is evidence that on one of the long marches to the north, a slaver cut off a young boy’s head and then forced his mother to carry it. Is that “far enough” to permit the compassionate Christian, George W. Bush, to allow the Bachus amendment to go through?

As some of the organized abolitionists are coming to realize, nothing will move Bush until there are mass demonstrations—including civil disobedience—in front of the White House and elsewhere. That’s how apartheid in South Africa was ended.

A question: Why did the big guns of the press give this hearing a pass? Slavery is boring?