On Native Ground
AND THEY CALL IT DEMOCRACY
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Democracy is more than voting.
We saw that in the valiant but doomed attempt in Congress to delay the certification of the Electoral College vote. More people seemed interested in preserving the illusion of a functioning democracy than investigating the many documented instances of crookedness in the 2004 election.
But to acknowledge that only some votes should be counted and others should not would shatter the illusion. Likewise for acknowledging that voter suppression and fraud is common and that there is little interest in changing things because the status quo benefits those in power.
And that's why democracy is more that just the show of casting ballots for candidates and hoping that those ballots don't get discarded or miscounted or just plain ignored.
Somehow, voting has become the only measuring stick for democracy, according to the people who rule us. They had an election in Afghanistan, and now it is a democracy. They're going to have an election in Iraq and soon that nation, too, will be a democracy,
Of course, anyone who truly believes that those two countries are or will soon be functioning democracies is either smoking crack or working for the Bush administration. Or perhaps both.
For instance, how can you have free elections in a forcibly occupied country? As long as U.S. troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan, neither Iyad Alawi nor Hamid Kazai can be considered anything more than puppets.
Elections don't necessarily introduce democracy, particularly if they are used mainly to legitimize an occupation or assorted other imperial skullduggery. Without true self-determination, there is no democracy.
That is why the elections in Palestine were a sham. They can elect Mahmoud Abbas as the U.S.-approved leader of the Palestinian Authority, but as long as Israel continues to occupy the West Bank, Abbas is the ruler of nothing.
For all of the wonderful images of the people who protested the apparently rigged result of the elections in Ukraine, it's helpful to know that as much American money and expertise was pumped into the efforts to get Viktor Yushchenko elected as Russia did to get its man, Viktor Yanukovich, elected.
It's become almost a truism that when the United States promises to bring democracy to the world, usually the opposite happens. It is also a truism that countries to which the U.S. wishes to bring democracy usually have something that the U.S. wants. In the case of Ukraine, it is a chance to get yet another pro-Western government to border Russia. In the case of Iraq or Afghanistan, it is oil.
Most of all, the U.S. definition of democracy means putting into power only leaders approved of by the U.S. When you consider that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez was elected by landslide majorities in 1998 and 2000 and managed to win a referendum last August while the U.S. was funding his enemies, you have a good idea of why the U.S. doesn't like democracy when it means people electing a leader that isn't subservient to U.S. interests.
Lately, we've been hearing conservatives compare present-day Iraq to El Salvador in the 1980s. The only problem is that the wrong lessons are being learned from what happened in El Salvador.
There was a decade-long civil war in El Salvador that ultimately claimed 75,000 lives. But "terrorists" did not do most of the killing. The U.S.-backed, "democratically elected" government was responsible for 90 percent of the atrocities, according to a UN-sponsored truth commission in 1993.
There were U.S.-sponsored elections in El Salvador in 1982, at the height of the civil war, and the U.S.-backed candidates won. It didn't end the conflict. It lasted another 10 years and took the United Nations, not the U.S., to finally broker a peace treaty. That peace came because the UN accomplished what the U.S. tried to prevent - recognizing and legitimizing the insurgency and folding it into a governing coalition with the government forces.
The lesson to be learned from El Salvador that can be applied in Iraq is that a unilaterally imposed democracy won't stop a civil war, but a multilateral solution might.
The classic definition of democracy is that the power, authority and legitimacy of democratic government is derived from the citizenry alone. Citizens rule in a democracy, not the people who claim mandates from their God, nor the people who have more wealth and might than others.
What the Bush administration likes to believe it is spreading around the world is not democracy. It is just the same old imperial game, camouflaged for public consumption. From Columbus to Kabul, the story is the same. The U.S. wants democracy only when it can serve its interests and wants only leaders that will serve its interests. The desires of the people are not to be trusted.
We'll hear all sorts of bilge in the coming weeks about how freedom is on the march throughout the world. In the face of yet another tainted presidential election in this country, and phony demonstration elections in our client states, one doesn't have to strain too hard to see the lies.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.