By Sara Flounders and Roger D. Harris
Facing the possible extradition to the U.S. of a Venezuelan diplomat on bogus charges, an emergency human rights delegation organized by the International Campaign to Free Alex Saab on June 3 flew to Cabo Verde, where Saab is imprisoned. This island archipelago nation off the west coast of Africa is one of the smallest, poorest and geographically isolated countries in the world.
The international human rights delegation did not gain Alex Saab’s freedom. They were even denied a visit with him. But they made breakthroughs raising the visibility of the case, which involves enormous political, legal and moral issues with long-term political consequences.
Saab’s case involves the abduction of a diplomat by the world’s sole superpower, which is locked in an unequal struggle to destroy the formerly prosperous, oil-rich country of Venezuela. The U.S. attack on Venezuela is not motivated by imperfections in Venezuelan society, but on Venezuela’s past successes in fighting poverty, promoting regional integration and acting like a sovereign nation.
Otherwise, the U.S. would be sending Venezuela aid instead of lavishing aid on the apartheid state of Israel, the narco-state of Colombia and the absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia.
The kidnapping of Alex Saab is a dramatic and far-reaching effort to enforce the illegal U.S.-decreed policy of economic sanctions. Washington is attempting to impose its will on a country by deliberately attacking the civilian population. These illegal sanctions are a conscious policy of imposing economic havoc to “make the economy scream.”
Saab, a Venezuelan diplomat abducted by the U.S. government a year ago, has been held under torturous conditions. The denial of diplomatic immunity by the U.S. is illegal, a violation of international law.
International campaign to Free Alex Saab
The powerful corporate media, by omission, can render a news item invisible. The Saab case is virtually unknown in the U.S., even among progressive political journalists, left organizations and solidarity activists. Washington’s demand for the extradition of Alex Saab is being covered more extensively in African and Latin American publications. In Venezuela, as expected, the case is well known.
Among some who are aware of the case, there is however an inordinate concentration on Saab the individual, obscuring the larger issues of sovereignty and human rights.
Gathering information on what was involved was no easy task. The U.S. charge of “money laundering” by a private businessperson in a country wracked by extreme shortages was meant to negate sympathy for Mr. Saab. It was only as the actual facts emerged that a support plan evolved for an international solidarity campaign.
The fact that Alex Saab has withstood a year-long arrest, torture and months of solitary confinement rather than comply with U.S. demands to cooperate indicates that he is not just a businessperson willing to sell to the highest bidder.
In Cabo Verde, the four-person human rights delegation knocked on government doors, conducted interviews and spoke with the media. They were supported by an activist movement and a strong legal team. The delegation was led by a Cabo Verde citizen, Bishop Filipe Teixeira, OFSCJ, a religious leader living in the Boston area who has a congregation of Cabo Verdeans and a history of participation in social justice campaigns. Tweets, Facebook links and news reports helped penetrate the wall of silence.
An international petition campaign has collected thousands of signatures, which are being forwarded to the president and prime minister of Cabo Verde and to the U.S. president. Several webinars have been held, including one with Saab’s lawyers, speaking from Cabo Verde and Nigeria.
Role of solidarity activists
Solidarity and people’s movements working together can become a powerful material force, breaking through silence, fear and repression. The focus for international solidarity work in this period is to strongly defend movements and even countries under relentless U.S. imperialist attack and destabilization, without placing unrealistic expectations or creating unrealistic images of how wonderful the internal situation is in the targeted country. Solidarity is not a pass for interference, second guessing, criticism or euphoric idealism.
It is essential to focus full attention on the source of the problem – U.S. imperialism – and not get lost in the weeds of criticizing the victim. U.S. sabotage, imposed shortages, mercenary attacks and fueling national antagonisms are intended to create and intensify internal divisions.
Shortages are intended to increase corruption, side deals, privilege and resentment. The targeted country may, thus, be wrongly blamed for the unfolding crisis created by the U.S. actions.
Simply put, many progressive goals are thwarted under conditions of illegal sanctions – because that is the purpose of the sanctions. Self-defense by the victimized country is an obligation in the face of destabilization and constant sabotage.
At each step, keeping the focus on the criminal U.S. actions provides the groundwork for progressive solidarity. This is true not only in defending attempts at revolutionary change, such as in Cuba or Venezuela. Even in Cabo Verde, the focus on the role of the U.S. was important. It was hardly a decision by the government of Cabo Verde to pull Alex Saab from his plane or to order him held.
Cabo Verde’s isolation and strategic position simply made that country a convenient location for the long arm of U.S. extraterritorial judicial overreach.
This case must become a global challenge to arrogant U.S. lawlessness.
Sara Flounders of the International Action Center and Roger D. Harris of the Task Force on the Americas visited Cabo Verde the week of June 3-10 as part of an emergency human rights delegation organized by the International Campaign to Free Alex Saab.
For more information on the case of Alex Saab:
Alex Saab petition: bit.ly/FreeAlexSaabVZ
Photo Credit: Roger D. Harris