Last week I attended the Eritrean American Festival in the Seattle/Tacoma area, at the Tacoma Convention Center, as did Black Agenda Report Executive Editor Margaret Kimberley and Breakthrough News Host and Producer Eugene Puryear. I arrived after they had spoken, on the day I was scheduled to speak at 6 pm. However, the festival was in disarray because diaspora dissidents attacked the festival in Sweden, so the Seattle festival was busy hiring extra security and taking extra precautions. The evening’s program started late, near the time when the dancing was to begin, so I didn’t speak that night.
At 6 am the next day, attackers tore down the festival tents outside the Marriott Hotel and scattered merchandise—Eritrean style dresses, t-shirts, flags, umbrellas, and the like. That afternoon protestors assaulted four people, some of whom were taken away in an ambulance. My speech was canceled while the community held an emergency meeting.
Eritrea is often called “the Cuba of Africa,” and the US has long been hostile to its alternative form of government and encouraged the diaspora dissidents who turned violent this year, in Seattle/Tacoma and in Canada and Europe.
This was the speech I would have given if the festival had not been disrupted by violence.
Hello thanks for having me again. I never can get the shoulder shimmy right, but I bought myself an umbrella to pump once the music starts instead.
Last night I made a few notes, then I read them and thought, “Eh, that’s not very good.” Then I decided that the main thing I want to do is quote President Isaias. I want to quote some of what we aired on Pacifica Radio broadcasts that I work on.
But before I do that . . . I was just watching video in shock as tents and cars burned at the Eritrean Festival in Sweden and one thousand attackers injured 52 innocent people. I called and asked a colleague on one of the Pacifica Radio broadcasts I work on whether she could get the basics and get it on a Monday newscast on KPFK-Los Angeles. I actually asked myself for a moment whether there could be any trouble like that here, but for some reason this happens in Europe, and I hope some of you here will be able to share some insight about that with me later so I can understand what we might need to report.
Now, setting that attack aside, I’m so glad to be here because Eritrea is one of the few bright spots on the planet right now. A few others include the emerging struggles for self-determination in West Africa, although as my plane took off this morning, I was wondering whether the US and France would be bombing Niger by the time it touched down or whether they’ll have managed to bully ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] into attacking four of their own, maybe starting a regional conflagration, by next week.
In any case I’m glad Eritrea is not among the nations who’ve called for the restoration of Niger’s puppet government.
I know you understand that electoral democracy is neither the only nor the most credible expression of popular will, especially in Africa where outside forces typically turn elections into selections of the puppets they want in power. When exiles have complained to me that Eritrea doesn’t hold elections, I say, “Oh, I’m so not sorry for you.” And in the one case I know of—Somalia—where one-person-one-vote elections would definitely represent popular will, the US has made sure they don’t have them.
Also, as I wrote in this week’s Black Agenda Report, Kenya and Rwanda have offered to put a Black face on a US-engineered re-invasion of occupied Haiti—to lock it down even tighter. Russia and China keep resisting on the UN Security Council, but this seems to be building to a point where the US will say it’s got enough willing pawns to go in even without UN Security Council approval. I’m glad Eritrea isn’t one of them.
Meanwhile, the US-Russia proxy war in Ukraine drags on with no end in sight, and the threat of a nuclear exchange keeps looming. In a few doom-dreaming moments I went to the Web and looked up “tactical” nuclear weapons to see just what the use of these things would look like.
They include gravity bombs, short-range missiles, artillery shells, land mines, depth charges, and torpedoes, all equipped with nuclear warheads. Who would have ever imagined nuclear artillery shells or land mines?
They also include nuclear armed ground-based or shipborne surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and air-to-air missiles. Air-to-air means one plane bombing another, but in any case, if nuclear weapons are used, radioactive material will be released into the air, the soil, and the water, which don’t know national boundaries, and I can’t even imagine the suffering in Ukraine.
These “tactical” nuclear weapons can have yields several times that of the weapons used in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and they’re actually part of the conversation now. Actually using them is frequently discussed in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Russia Today.
No one has a plan in place to de-escalate once two of the world’s great nuclear powers deploy “tactical” nuclear weapons, so this puts us all near the edge of Armageddon.
In the midst of all this insanity, it was so inspiring to see both Russia and China rolling out the red carpet for President Isaias at the end of May, and then to hear him standing so tall for Eritrea, a country free of IMF or World Bank debt, speaking so clearly and rationally.
We aired some of what he said on one of the Pacifica Radio shows I work on, but before that, my co-producer asked me, “Do you really think we should do this? Or do you think it’s too much?” She meant that it might cause complaint in this environment, where so much air time—even on Pacifica Radio—has been given over to mindlessly demonizing Russia.
I said, “Of course we should play it; we may have some Russia-obsessed fanatics in our midst here, but they’ll just have to live with it, and we don’t have any advertisers or corporate sponsors to answer to. Pacifica Radio is totally listener supported. This is just some of what he said that we put on the air:
“. . .This obsession of containing Russia was there for the last 30 years. It’s nothing new. If you are containing one nation not to grow, not to compete, not to be able to make its contributions, then you are declaring war.
“We had our position very clear. We said this is not the kind of old world order that the peoples of all continents need. Nobody needs these kinds of policies. Hegemony, control, and not allowing people to grow and work hard to change their quality of life. This idea of war in Ukraine or war between the Russian Federation and Ukraine is not true at all. This is war declared by NATO and Washington against the Russian Federation for the last 30 years. This has been going on and on and on for the last 30 years.
“How can you contain Russia? Not enable Russia to economically compete, not enable Russia to compete in technology, not allow Russia to compete in industries, not allow Russia to even have influence anywhere. If you have declared this war, then the war is there. It’s not a war between Russia and Ukraine.
“For that matter our position was clear. We were against this so-called global order or world order.
“We’ve been victims of these sanctions. It’s not just big nations or powerful nations like Russia, China or anybody else. But even those who don’t bow or kneel down to this ideology of hegemony will have to be punished. Sanctions, sanctions, sanctions. This declaration of war will have to end.”
Now I’ve got a few words of my own for these reprehensible sanctions. We all know that Eritrea is heavily sanctioned by the US and the West. The only reason it’s not as sanctioned as Russia is that it doesn’t have nearly so many exports and imports to sanction. None of those sanctions have been lifted even though the Ethiopian civil war is over. Some sanctions were imposed on Ethiopia and they haven’t yet been lifted either, but the most punishing of sanctions were imposed on Eritrea in November 2021, when it was excluded from the SWIFT system, used to conduct international financial transactions. That put Eritrea in the exclusive company of Iran and North Korea and then, as of February 2022, Russia.
The only thing further that the US could do would be to add Eritrea to the state sponsors of terrorism list along with Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Cuba, and we’ve got crackpot, neocon fanatics like Michael Rubin who argue for that.
At last year’s festival, a number of people asked me why the US won’t just let Eritrea live as a self-reliant, independent nation, and I said because the US is a hyper-militarized, capitalist, imperialist empire that will not, as President Isaias said, tolerate any nation that doesn’t bow down to its global hegemony.
I know that most of you have probably had opportunity here that you might not have had at home, and you may like your neighbors and your communities, but that’s the complexity we live with. The US may have been good for you, but it doesn’t want to let Eritrea live as it is.
I had the honor of speaking with President Isaias’s advisor Yemane Ghebreab about the sanctions when he was at the last UN General Assembly meeting. He told me about the creativity that Eritrea has to exercise to get around them. We also discussed some of the difficulties that those of you here may have sending money to family in Eritrea because of the sanctions, but as he said, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Now back to President Isaias’s remarks. He said:
“This is not a war between Russia and Ukraine. This is a war declared by NATO, led by Washington, and Russia has a right to defend itself. Not alone. It’s not an isolated Russian case. This is a global issue, and we need an order, a global order or a world order, that enables everybody to share, cooperate. Complementarity will have to be there. You can’t contain someone, you can’t contain one nation. You can’t force or even use force, all sorts of coercion to subdue nations. This is not acceptable. This is the law of the jungle. We need to get out of this law of the jungle. And people will have to be free, live like human beings.
“No one nation has the right to come and impose its will on anybody else. And Russia had the right to defend itself. Russia is defending itself on behalf of everybody everywhere.”
We aired that on Pacifica Radio, and I’ve got family right here in Seattle who would think I was deranged if they heard it, but families are like that. They rarely agree on everything, and this country is blanketed in the propaganda that President Isaias was slicing through there.
He also said:
“So the question comes, what is the position of every nation as far as the imposition of sanctions on the Russian Federation or even declaring war against the Russian Federation? Our position was very clear. We are against containment. We are against the domination or hegemony of one nation. We can’t accept it. It’s not our specific case. It’s a case for everybody. Everybody, every nation, every people will have to make its position clear. And our support for the Russian Federation against these hegemonistic policies was a natural phenomenon or outcome of what we’ve done. So it’s not a matter of abstaining or supporting or not supporting. It’s a matter of taking a position on this phenomenon, US global hegemony.”
I can’t do any better than President Isaias, so I’m just going to end by repeating that Eritrea is such a bright spot on the planet right now. Thank you again for asking me to be here with you.
Ann Garrison is a Black Agenda Report Contributing Editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at ann(at)anngarrison.com. Please help to support her work on Patreon.