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  • Friday, October 14, 2005

    A look at Liberia after its first election in over a decade

    From Democracy Now!:

    AMY GOODMAN: We're talking with Emira Woods, who is with the Institute for Policy Studies, herself born in Liberia. Liberia, a country of freed slaves. Tell us the history and also the involvement of the United States, the Firestone Company.

    EMIRA WOODS: Well, once again, thank you for asking these questions. They’re right on target. If you look at the history of Liberia, the one correction I would say is that Liberia was founded, yes, by the American Colonization Society, but it was a compilation of people who came from America, from the Caribbean and from other African countries that founded Liberia in the 1820s. And if you look at the history of Liberia, clearly America has had a critical role to play since its founding. Of course, we know the capital city, named after James Monroe, the U.S. Speaker of the House, also played a critical role in the 1800s in the founding of Liberia.

    But since then, American companies have continued to have their influence in Liberia. 1922 the Firestone Rubber Company went in and set up plantations in Liberia. And you see from 1922 to today not only the exploitation of the rubber, the extraction of Liberia's vital resources, for pennies. In the 1920s, it was six cents per acre that Firestone paid for extraction of the rubber.

    A new agreement has recently been signed, just a few months back with the pushing and pressuring from the U.S. ambassador in Liberia, where Firestone extended its lease agreement with Liberia for a further 37 years. So, the Firestone Company, which is essentially running a plantation, exploiting labor, exploiting particularly child labor, continues to have its way, extracting the resources for minimal amounts, putting the rubber on a ship and sending it off to Indiana, essentially, without helping to bring about development in Liberia.

    The Mattel Steel Company, another American company, has recently signed a contract again with this interim government using the space of the transitional period to go in to sign new contracts that further exploit the Liberian people. So the richness of the country, whether it’s the iron ore, or the rubber, the gold, the diamonds have really been extracted for pennies, essentially, throughout history now of Liberia, and really no benefits coming to the Liberian people.

    If you look at the conditions -- I just came back this past August – you know, no running water, no electricity, no functioning school systems or health care systems. I mean, total breakdown of the infrastructure because of this 23 years of coups and conflicts. There is so much that is needed to help benefit the condition of people's lives in Liberia. Clearly there should be greater corporate accountability and responsibility, and the U.S. could play a critical role.

    The other issue that is relevant for Liberia today is the question of Liberia's debt. Liberia owes $3 billion to the international community. It is a debt that is hanging like, you know, the shield over the necks of the Liberian peoples. And clearly, with all of the enthusiasm for debt cancellation from the G-8 meeting to the World Bank and the IMF meetings this September, why is it that Liberia is left off the table? Why is it that these countries where the debt was accrued under dictators, under corrupt leadership, have to still bare the burden of that debt now and into the future? These are the questions that really need to be tackled, were we to think about not only a stable and secure path, but a firm economic footing for Liberia’s future.

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