America, celebrating Mandela but keeping political prisoners


NELSON MANDELA is probably the world’s most famous political prisoner. He was a symbol of the evils of apartheid South Africa.
He was the face of the cause of black people in South Africa.
There are many Mandelas stuck in America’s prisons that the establishment refuses to recognise as it would draw attention to its hypocrisy.
In America, black people have been continually cautioned to be patient in their pursuit of fundamental human rights.
They are told that as long as they remain faithful to the existing democratic order, the glorious moment will arrive when they will come into their own as full-fledged human beings.
Now that there is a black President, the establishment has an example to drive home their point.
Barack Obama has become the poster child of a black man ‘making it’ and yet truthfully speaking Obama is not your typical black man.
The irony of Barack Obama and George Bush coming to pay their respects to Nelson Mandela is definitely not lost on many who have been fighting for the release of political prisoners in America.
America’s political prisoners are guilty of political boldness, the persistent challenging of social wrongs fostered and reinforced by the state.
Political prisoners are men and women who have been incarcerated for their political views and actions.
Political prisoners have always been an especially vulnerable and abused subset of American prison population.
Many of the political prisoners are victims of an FBI counter-intelligence called COINTELPRO.
COINTELPRO consisted of a series of covert actions directed against domestic dissent groups, targeting five perceived threats to ‘domestic tranquillity’.
At least 38 Black Panther Party members were killed during the project with hundreds being imprisoned.
Before COINTELPRO was laid to rest, it was responsible for maiming, murdering, false prosecutions and frame-ups, destruction and mayhem throughout the country.
Many of the political prisoners were targeted for their political beliefs and actions.
There are about 100 political prisoners in various prisons across the United States.
These men and women are listed and recognised as political prisoners by numerous human rights, legal defence and progressive organisations, these people all come from the Civil Rights / Black Power/ New African Liberation struggles; the Puerto Rican Independence Movement; Indigenous peoples survival struggles; Chicano/Mexicano Movements.
They are black, white, Latino and native American. Most of these political prisoners have been in captivity since the 1970s and 80s.
Some were convicted on totally fabricated charges, others for nebulous political conspiracies or for acts of resistance.
The American government likes to deny that it holds political prisoners.
Not only does America hold these prisoners but they are being held under longer sentences than any kind of prisoners, anywhere in the world. An article in the Harvard Black Letter law Journal Vol. 18, states that “despite their prevalence in United States society, US Government officials have long denied the very existence of political prisoners.
When Andrew Young, the former US Ambassador to the United Nations, publicly acknowledged the existence of over 100 political prisoners in his country, he was swiftly removed from office”.
Leonard Peltier is an activist in the American Indian Movement, whose goal was to organise the native American communities to stand up for their rights.
In a CIONTELPRO style operation, he was sentenced to life in prison for murdering two FBI agents on the basis of fabricated and suppressed evidence.
Evidence exonerating him was withheld by the FBI. In his appeal, the government admitted it had no evidence to show he killed the two FBI agents.
Peltier has been imprisoned for 35 years for a crime he did not commit.
In his message on the passing of Nelson Mandela he wrote “Nelson Mandela is known for leading the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. America talked about ending apartheid …. Right now, here in America, right now in Canada, right now in South America, there is apartheid that seeks to separate us from our sacred places, our lands, our resources.”
Mumia Abu Jamal is the most prominent political prisoner in America. In 1981, COINTELPRO, he was arrested and sentenced to death in an unfair trial for the murder of a Philadelphia policeman. Mumia was an organiser and campaigner against police abuses in the African American community and was the president of the Association of Black Journalists. During his imprisonment he has published several books and commentaries.
Ricardo Palmera is a Colombian revolutionary, who was also a university professor in Colombia, who is in solitary confinement in the Supermax prison at Florence, Colorado, serving a 60-year sentence for conspiracy to hold 3 captured CIA contractors prisoner in the FRAC-held zone of Colombia.
He was arrested in Ecuador in the process of negotiating with the UN for their release, and then extradited to the US where he was subjected to four separate trials. For years he led mass movements for social change and many of his friends were murdered by death squads of the Colombian government. For the past 14 years, America has contributed more than $8 billion to Colombia that has been used to forcibly displace some 5 million rural persons from their homes to make way for large land holders and American corporations.
Veronza Bowers is an inmate at the Federal Correctional Facility in Atlanta, Georgia.
He is a former member of the Black Panther Party and has been in prison for over 37 years making him one of the longest held political prisoners in US history.
Veronza was convicted in the murder of a US park ranger on the word of two government informers, both of whom received reduced sentences for other crimes by the Federal Prosecutor’s office.
There were no eye-witnesses and no evidence independent of these informants to link him to the crime.
Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (David Rice) were leaders of the Black Panthers in Omaha in the 1960s and were targets of COINTELPRO.
Both men have been imprisoned for 43 years, serving life sentences on charges of killing an Omaha policeman.
They were convicted on the testimony of a teenage boy who was beaten by the police and threatened with the electric chair if he did not blame the crime on Poindexter and Mondo. Amnesty International defends them as prisoners of conscience.
Mandela as a symbol represents very differing perspectives on the race issue here and abroad. He has been given many accolades by the West and has been sanitised to be the only democratic leader to come out of the liberation movements of Southern Africa.
To many people of colour fighting to have their voices heard, Mandela stands as a sign that with enough pressure, a racist, discriminatory, predatory regime can be moved.
In a way, I think our brothers and sisters in America will only achieve true freedom when Africa finally speaks with one voice against Western imperialism and oppression.
The fight against the racist capitalist policies of America and her allies has to be a united effort.
Look at what was done to Mandela’s legacy; he became the icon to be measured against any leader in the developing world. Mandela became ‘civilised’ when he spoke against President Mugabe and as a reward he was hurriedly removed from America’s terrorist watch list.
His compatriots like Tokyo Sexwale unfortunately never got that opportunity which resulted in him being arrested at JFK Airport in New York in October this year as he is still on the terrorist watch list.
The disparity between what America preaches abroad and practises at home could not be more glaring when you look at its treatment of African Americans, Native Americans and other progressive groups.
The American establishment was forced to tone down its discriminatory policies and give concessions and meet some of the demands of the Civil Rights Movement because it could very well not court liberation movements from the Soviet Union and teach them ‘democracy’ will oppressing people of colour within its borders. It had to present itself as a colour blind system that accepted all as long as they respected the law of the land.
Unfortunately the law of the land was and remains skewed in favour of the white man. So while America celebrates Mandela as a political prisoner who brought peace and embraced democracy, it should not be forgotten that democracy as espoused by the American establishment has nothing to do with “liberty, equality and freedom” but the exporting of American values and businesses abroad and the protection of white capital and profits.


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