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What's CIA up to with Dalai Lama?

By Sara Flounders

On Aug. 14 the Dalai Lama--a religious figurehead of Tibetan Buddhism-was in New York's Central Park. While in the city he also appeared at three sold-out performances at the Beacon Theatre plus other events--where wealthy individuals could pay up to $1,000 a ticket to hear him speak.

He had official cooperation, including prominent news articles in each of the three major dailies and subway posters with directions to the park, compliments of the New York City Transit Authority.

According to the New York Times, the Dalai Lama's every move was mapped out and scheduled by the U.S. State Department. New York City officials blocked off streets. Television crews from around the world followed him. And every news or feature story managed to push the issue of independence of Tibet from People's China.

Puerto Rico has about the same size population as Tibet. Puerto Rico has been a U.S. colony for over 100 years. It has had many great and dynamic leaders. Why aren't there similar movies, posters and concerts bankrolled for Puerto Rico's leaders, just to take one example?

Rock bands, movie stars and politicians all honor the Dalai Lama and raise the call for a "free Tibet." This State Department campaign has confused many people who are deeply interested in freedom for political prisoners or in environmental issues. But under a slick cover, this campaign hides an unrelenting attack on the People's Republic of China and the accomplishments of the Chinese Revolution.

The Dalai Lama, with considerable help from the major corporate media, has become a cult figure. Ask anyone who's tuned in to the media. Even if they hardly know anything about politics, they will tell you the Dalai Lama is a good, saintly person, a "holy man," a "spiritual force." His new book, "The Art of Happiness"--co-written with Howard C. Cutler--was promoted until it made the best-seller list for 29 weeks.

But is the Dalai Lama really apolitical? If so, why did this "holy man," who supposedly would not kill an insect, support NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia?

People concerned about social issues should know that, like Pope John Paul and other conservative religious leaders, the Dalai Lama denounces abortion, all forms of birth control and homosexuality.

U.S. imperialism has much experience in using the religious sentiment of millions of people. The CIA formed a bloc with the Pope, who has the allegiance of hundreds of millions of Roman Catholics, to overturn socialism in Poland. It should come as no surprise that the Dalai Lama is also utilized by the CIA.

On the other hand, religious figures who oppose U.S. policy are demonized or become targets of assassination--from Bishop Romero of El Salvador to religious Muslims in Lebanon and Palestine.

Last year Hollywood released two major movies about Tibet. The Hollywood studios love the Dalai Lama, who, we are told, embodies the spirit and aspirations of the Tibetan people. The rich conglomerates that now control Hollywood--Disney and TriStar--both support the organization Free Tibet.

Hollywood glorifies the tiny Tibetan ruling class and its presumed idyllic past in the same way the movie "Gone With the Wind" glorified slavery and the racist ruling class in the old South.

One of these movies, "Seven Years in Tibet," was based on a book written by an Austrian Nazi, Heinrich Harrer. He was involved in some of the most brutal crimes of the fascists in Austria. Harrer ended up in Tibet during World War II on a secret mission for German imperialism, which was trying to compete with British imperialism in Asia. He was accepted into the inner circle of the court life among the Tibetan nobility.

Imperialism vs.
Indigenous culture

All over the globe Indigenous societies of North America, Latin America, Africa and Australia have been decimated. The rich variety of their cultures, music and religious beliefs have been ripped up, stepped on and ridiculed. Native peoples have been crushed all over the world by the very forces who today seem to be so respectfully in awe of Tibetan culture.

Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism would have been of little interest to U.S. or British imperialism had it not been for the great Chinese Revolution, which swept away all the old, corrupt feudal society.

This was a revolution that involved mass movements of millions of poor peasants organizing to distribute the land and throw out the old landlords. This great social upheaval unleashed the creative energy and participation of a quarter of humanity. Yet the Western media instead glorifies the old Tibet.

Era of divide and rule in China

For over 100 years, the imperialist powers of Western Europe and Japan carved China into spheres of interest, just as Europe carved Africa into outright colonies. Washington opposed these special concession areas only because it wanted unrestricted access to all of China for U.S. business.

In the 19th century, Britain, the dominant power, fought two wars with the Manchu Dynasty for the right to impose the sale of opium on China. In 1904 Britain launched a full-scale military invasion of Tibet. In the Treaty of Lhasa, China was forced to grant two trading areas to Britain and to pay huge military reparations to cover the cost of the British war.

In 1949 the Red Army was close to finally defeating the U.S.-supported Kuomintang army led by General Chiang Kai-shek. Washington then plotted to let Tibet join the new United Nations as an independent country. The effort failed because Tibet had been considered a Chinese pro vince for over 700 years, and even the Kuomintang asserted that China had always included Tibet and the island of Taiwan.

Today as U.S. imperialism grows ever more aggressive, it is moving on several fronts to push for the separation of Tibet, Taiwan and the western province of Xinjiang from China.

Just as in the Balkans and in the republics of the former Soviet Union, U.S. corporate forces support and encourage separatist movements to break up and control whole areas of the globe that had earlier broken free of imperialist domination.

Life in old Tibet

Pre-revolution Tibet was a completely underdeveloped region. It had no road system at all. The only wheels were prayer wheels. It was an agricultural, feudal theocracy based on serfdom and slavery.

Over 90 percent of the population were landless serfs. They were tied to the land but owned nothing. Their children were registered on the landlord's property books.

There were no schools, except feudal monasteries where a handful of young boys studied chants. Total enrollment in the old-style private schools was 600 students. Education for women was of course absolutely unheard of. There was no health care. There was not one hospital in all of Tibet.

One hundred noble families and the abbots of 100 major monasteries--also from ruling families--owned everything. The Dalai Lama lived in the 1,000-room, 14-story Potala Palace. Traditionally he was chosen in his youth from outside the ruling circles. He remained a pawn under the control of contending advisers from the nobility.

For the average peasant, life was short and miserable. Tibet had one of the highest rates of tuberculosis and infant mortality in the world.

Today Tibet has 2,380 primary schools, along with several professional schools, where education is conducted in the Tibetan language. Tibet now has 2,623 doctors, 95 municipal hospitals and 770 medical clinics.

Class struggle in Tibet

In 1949 the Chinese Revolution first established Tibet as an Autonomous Region with far more rights than it had under any previous Chinese government. Chinese Communist Party policy was to wait until conditions developed within the oppressed classes of the Tibetan population to rise up and overthrow serfdom.

Serfdom was not outlawed until 1959, ten years after the Chinese Revolution. This hap pened after a mass movement had isolated the whole entourage of the Dalai Lama.

It's true, however, that Chinese Communists challenged age-old customs in Tibet.

First of all, the Chinese government paid wages to Tibetans who worked on a large national road-building program. This totally disrupted the custom of servitude. Before this, a serf could only survive by working for a landlord, not for wages but for food.

Even more revolutionary was the CCP policy of paying wages to children of serfs and former slaves to attend school and providing them with books, meals and housing. In desperately poor families even young children had had to work for the family to survive. This revolutionary policy gave economic leverage for the first time to the most oppressed layers of this stifling class society.

CIA mobilizes ruling-class

Starting in 1955 the CIA began to build a counter-revolutionary army in Tibet, much like the contras in Nicaragua and, more recently, the financing and training of the KLA in Kosovo.

In the Aug. 16 Newsweek magazine, an article entitled "A secret war on the roof of the world--spooks, monks and the CIA's covert gamble in Tibet" describes details of the CIA operation from 1957 to 1965.

Similarly, a major article in the Jan. 25, 1997, Chicago Tribune described the special training of Tibetan mercenaries at Camp Hale in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado throughout the 1950s.

These mercenaries were then parachuted into Tibet. According to the famous "Pentagon Papers," there were at least 700 of these flights in the 1950s. Air Force C-130s were used, as later in Vietnam, to drop ammunition and submachine guns. There were also special bases in Guam and Okinawa for training Tibetan soldiers.

Gyalo Thundup, the Dalai Lama's brother, ran the operation. This was hardly a secret. It was his claim to fame.

The Chicago Tribune article was titled, "The CIA Secret War in Tibet." As this article said so well, "Little about the CIA skullduggery in the Himalayas is a real secret except maybe to the U.S. taxpayers who bankrolled it."

The CIA gave a special retainer to the Dalai Lama throughout the 1960s of $180,000 a year--a small fortune in Nepal, where it had set up an army and virtual government in exile. Washington also set up special radio stations aimed at Tibet projecting the Dalai Lama as a god-king.

Ralph McGehee, who has written many exposés of CIA operations and maintains a web site, described in some detail how the "company" promoted the Dalai Lama. The CIA's National Endowment for Democracy provided money for the Tibet Fund, Tibet Voice and the International Campaign for Tibet.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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