Sunday, May 21, 2017

Decolonization in the Caribbean #7: From Russia with...Solidarity?

For those attached to the United States, whether as eager patriotic citizens or uncomfortable colonial subjects, the past week was filled with an unbelievable amount of revelations and insinuations about Donald Trump’s campaign, Donald Trump’s administration and Russia. The relationship between the US and Russia is at a point that would be almost unrecognizable to someone just a few years ago. There is a Republican president of the US, repeatedly praising the leader of Russia Vladimir Putin. And rather than align his statements with the underlying adversarial relationship between the two countries, he goes to any extent to not back down, even to the point of maligning the US rhetorically in order to maintain his praise for Russia and its leader. Early on, you could argue that this was due to Trump’s blind neophyte level of political acumen, but now it just looks suspicious. 

This was even compounded to a degree that basically brutalized any possible commonsense understanding of the situation when the day after firing the Director of the FBI (and then admitting it was in part because of the investigation about any connections to Trump and his campaign), Trump had a smiling and friendly photo-op with Russian officials, including one who the US intelligence community argues is a spy. Whether or not he shared US intelligence secrets in his need to boast and impress random people is beside the point. While he is lamenting the non-stop "fake news" Russia story that keeps morphing, contracting and then expanding in the media, he then gives the Russia store more suspicious looking legs by having a photo-op with them?!? Laña', hekkua'. 

But as I have been reading and following this, I have also been immersed in the past week in UN history and politics, of which Russia is a significant actor, and not in the way we, who live in the colonies of the US, would normally acknowledge. After all, Guam might not be on any list of colonies (or non-self-governing territories) if not for Russian pressure. 

After World War II the US was adamant that every nation place their colonies in the UN system, but did not feel obligated to offer up their own possessions, such as Guam. After Russia drew attention to this hypocrisy, the US grudgingly agreed to list Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. During the following decades where the US engaged with the United Nations on decolonization in a very minimal way, Russia and other countries ideologically critical of the US and its policies, were often the loudest voices calling on the US to decolonize their colonies. Eventually the US stopped engaged completely and no longer attends most of the UN meetings related to decolonization. That is why for the past three seminars I have attended, the US did not even bother to send a representative.

But as decolonization is no longer an important ideological wedge issue, as there are few active independence or nationalism movements, or fiery decolonial challenges to the past and present world order, so too has the investment of countries such as Russia in pushing aggressively for the decolonization of colonies held by the US or its allies. The rhetoric is still there, and at each seminar or forum, there will be statements calling on all administering powers or member states to take seriously their obligations, but not much more.

This is one of the ways in which being from a colony and visiting the UN can be surreal. Growing up in Guam, you are unconsciously taught that the US and Uncle Sam hold a monopoly on freedom and liberty and justice, and that those who are its stated enemies, whether it be Iran, China, North Korea or Russia, are the antithesis, the places where all the beautiful things in the world go to die. I am not making an statements on the level of freedom or democracy in these countries. But within the UN context, the US offers no help, no kind words, no solidarity and simply tells you that you, your island and your rights all belong to us and so you will be happy with whatever you are given and that is the end of it. 

Decolonization to the UN is seen as something that challenges its borders, its sovereignty, like a favorite pet achieving consciousness and then demanding better treatment and rights. Guam at the UN is seen as something that is trying to take away power, to steal away authority, to challenge who is boss. You love your pet, because the relationship gives you a particular power and authority, an ability to manage its existence, set the boundaries for your love. But few people would want their pet to suddenly become self-aware and demand their own rights and chance at determining their destiny or existence. All the love you felt, melts into feelings of betrayal at because the loss of the power differential makes you feel like you have lost the relationship as well.

But at the UN, the ideological rivals of the US, are always willing to offer their support, kind words and solidarity. It cannot amount to much in the UN context, but it can help you perceive your relationship to your colonizer differently. Even if those who are charming you, are doing so for their own purposes and may not care about you, their appeals and advances acknowledge a value to you, give you a sense of recognition, which your colonizer takes for granted. Your colonizer treats you like you should be grateful they give you anything, like you are whiny and out of line. But that is what engaging in a more international context can help you see, is that the current colonial relationship may be devoid of real love and respect, and help you understand the need to change it.

 Below is an excerpt from the representative of the Russian Federation:

Excerpt from the Statement from the Russian Federation
Stansilav Aleksaev
C24 Regional Seminar
May 16-18, 2017
Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

...We consider it as recognition of the role of Russia not only as one of the creators of the Special Committee on Decolonization, but also as a constant supporter of this very important UN body.

Mr. Chairman, while colonial countries and territories still exist, the UN activist on the track of decolonization in general and of this Special Committee in particular is still in demand and will remain useful. Principles concerning non-self-governing territories that are reflect in the UN Charter as well as in the Declaration on granting independence to colonial countries and other relevant UN resolutions and decisions are still valid, just as they were at the beginning of the UN work.

We are of the strong view that neither the size of a territory nor geographical position nor the amount of natural resources should affect the rights of people for self-determination. And we need to remember that administering powers are obliged under international law to create conditions that would allow these territories to exercise this right in a free way and with no external interruption.

My country, being a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a member of the Trusteeship Council, the Committee of 24 and all other UN bodies which deal with matters related to the realization of the Goals and Principles of the UN Charter and the Declaration on granting independence, will continue to be actively engaged in efforts aimed at full and final liquidation of colonialism..

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