U.S. aid doesn't aid Bangladesh

When I lived in the Bronx, one of those traveling carnivals came into our neighborhood. They set up their equipment in a public park, tearing up the grass and knocking down a stone gate. They charged the people to come into the public park and charged them again to ride unsafe rides. The profit-making outfit’s ideological argument for the neighborhood was at least it provides jobs.

Well the neighborhood was outraged after two accidents happened involving children and the leaflet warnings put out by the local Communist Party club made that carnival pack up and go away earlier than planned.

The analogy here suffers quite a bit – after all, a two-bit carnival can never be compared to a whole system of imperialism yet some of the same issues arise.

Such is the case for Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world. I interviewed leaders from the Communist Party of Bangladesh and the Workers Party of Bangladesh they talked about three things: Unocal, the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and Chittagong Port. All of these have been struggles for a while, but in the new world order of Bush’s war on terrorism, they all take on a new intensity.

Bangladesh holds a vast amount of natural gas and U.S.-based oil company – Unocal is one of the major corporations trying to capitalize on it. Mujahidul Islam Selim, general secretary of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, said, “anybody with large amounts of money is greedily coming to invest.”

Bangladesh’s ruling-class parties, Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, are being lobbied to ignore the national interests of the country and support Unocal’s proposed pipeline to India.

Bangladesh is caught up in present day reality of “imperialist capitalist globalization,” Selim said. “It is a world system headed by the U.S. and G-8 countries and their controlled institutions of the World Bank, IMF [International Monetary Fund] and WTO [World Trade Organization].” Selim said their policies – liberalization, deregulation and privatization – are increasing poverty, not decreasing it. The closing of the Adamjee Jute Mills, throwing 100,000 workers and their families into turmoil, is the result of this.

And, of course, the corporations interested in Bangladesh need military guarantees. Enter the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Washington proposed SOFA a few years ago but it failed because of the massive opposition to the U.S. using Bangladesh as a military base.

With SOFA, U.S. armed forces can enter Bangladesh without visas and customs checking and if a member of the U.S. army commits an offence in the country, the courts of Bangladesh would not have the authority to try them.

According to Alok Kumar Gupta, a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, the U.S. argues that SOFA was “designed to help countries during times of natural disasters and not to use the country as a military base.” When half a million people face torrential floods, like they are now, that argument is a powerful one.

However, Gupta wrote, since the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Clark and Subic Bay bases in the Philippines, Bangladesh may serve as a “half-way house” for U.S. forces in the region.

Enter Chittigong Port, which has been turned over to a U.S.-based stevedoring corporation called Stevedoring Services of America (SSA). SSA signed a 198-year lease with the government of Bangladesh to run the Chittigong Port and its security. Bangladesh authorities are not allowed in. The fear is this is going to be used for military purposes.

Now can all of this activity be used to employ people and develop the country?

U.S. imperialism is on the rampage all over the world. Selim said that Bangladesh and other developing countries are being re-colonialized in a more aggressive way than ever.

Bangladesh, like most of the former colonial countries, does need help in developing infrastructure, agriculture, industry and educational and health programs. But it needs sustainable development, national integrity and economic equality, not two-bit carnivals like Unocal and the Pentagon.

Terrie Albano can be reached at Talbano@pww.org