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Dear Editors & Writer
I was pleased to see the recent Advocate article NO SAFE HAVEN (July 22-28) about Richard Sitcha, a political asylum seeker from Cameroon, now illegally detained under a U.S. Homeland Security pilot program. Having investigated the human rights situation in Cameroon, in the summer of 1997, perhaps I can clarify several of your facts, and underscore the dubious position Mr. Sitcha has been placed in. Similar facts were provided in a sworn affadavit to Judge Michael Ponsor in June, who has recently been hearing Richard Sitcha's case.
First, you wrote quite accurately that Cameroon 'is a democracy in name only.' However, while Cameroon's now president Paul Biya did -- as you wrote -- 'take office in 1997' after an election considered by observers 'not free and fair,' Paul Biya was formerly Prime Minister in Cameroon from 1975 to 1982, and he assumed the presidency illegally in 1982. As Prime Minister, Biya undermined state institutions, and the presidency of Amadou Ahidjo, enabling his own succession and the consolidation of absolute power that secured his now 22 year dictatorship.
To say Biya has ruled "with an iron fist" is a sad understatement. Backed by France for decades, Biya's continued ascendancy comes through a more recent alliance with the Central Intelligence Agency (see, e.g. Africa Confidential reporting on Cameroon) and his signatory participation in the euphemistic Congo Basin Forest Partnership negotiated by Colin Powell in 2003. The Biya dictatorship revolves around petroleum, warfare, and the decimation of the Congo basin forests (and wildlife), and he is very tight with multinational corporations and government officials from both France and the U.S. Biya is a close friend of Jean Cristophe Mitterand, for example, whose logging companies disseminate only terror, devastation and rape. Cameroon is at war with Nigeria over oil, but you won't read anywhere about the "Bikassi" conflict, even if the oil fills the tanks of petrol stations in Noho.
Given Richard Sitcha's human rights advocacy in defense of innocent youths disappeared by the Biya regime, anyone with any common sense in Cameroon would deny that they knew Richard Sitcha (to any journalist foolish enough to ask). Anyone from State department calling to inquire would have to go through formal channels, and State would not let them tarnish the image of the Biya "democracy", because the profits are too great and the interests too deep to offend.
In case anyone hasn't noticed, Cameroon ' like the brutal multi-decades long dictatorships of General Gnassingbe Eyadema (Togo) and Omar Bongo (Gabon) and President Obiang (Eq. Guinea) ' is in complete media whiteout in the U.S. These places are awash in blood.
In Cameroon, dissidents ' which might be the most innocent and apolitical bystander ' have been tortured and taken out in oil company helicopters and dumped into the Gulf of Gunea, which is littered with oil derricks and tankers, some large percentage of which (the oil) comes to the US. Cameroonian human rights experts I spoke with, who risk their lives every single day, and yet persist, have documented special torture centers run by the military where people are taken and never heard from again. The US provides military training to Cameroonian soldiers under the Pentagon's IMET, E-IMET and JCET programs, and others. It is not in the Pentagon's interests to defend Richard Sitcha, (though its impossible to discern whether Mr. Sitcha's case has received that level of attention).
The real travesty is that Richard Sitcha's story is so common, yet so completely unheard, that when an outlet like the Advocate carries it -- at last -- it sounds like it is some exception to the rule, rather than the status quo for millions and millions of innocent people, whether refugees, dissidents, or legal immigrants, in the U.S. and abroad.
Richard shouldn't have to pay anything or anyone for his freedom. If the U.S. were what so many of us think it is, we would serve freedom to Richard ' and people like him ' on a silver platter. Torture, repression and murder are sanctioned by the U.S. government at the deepest levels, no matter the political affiliation or party in the White House. (And that is unlikely to change in the near future). Sure, as you wrote, some U.S. 'government spokesman told the Associated Press that asylum-seekers would be kept safe while in custody.' But how can anyone believe them?
keith harmon snow
Survivor's Rights International
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© keith is an INDEPENDENT freelance journalist and investigator entirely dependent on individual donations and voluntary contributions. He has lived under the poverty line for over a decade, and he has continues to work as a volunteer for three non-profit humanitarian organizations. Without your support, he cannot continue to do this important and insightful work.
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