Keeping the Record Straight on US-Liberia Relations

PRESS RELEASE (January 15, 2003)
© Ministry of Information

Monrovia, Liberia - As the Liberian government and people begin the critical year 2003, it is incumbent upon the Taylor Administration to assess, and if possible re-direct the course of its relations with its principal traditional ally, the United States of America. It is the intention of the government to set the record straight on a number of issues that have arisen since Liberia embarked upon its Constructive Engagement policy with the United States.

THE GOL CONSTRUCTIVE ENGAGEMENT POLICY

The government and people of Liberia painfully realized a number of years ago that the United States government had instituted a policy of "No Interest" in Liberia. Washington has since failed to support democracy following the 1997 elections and continues to exhibit apathy toward post-war reconstruction. In spite of this realization, the Taylor Government fostered its Constructive Engagement Policy to build confidence with Washington, DC and encourage normalization of relations.

To this end, the Government employed diplomatic overtures, public relations efforts and a general show of goodwill in acceding to numerous demands of the United States. It appears however that all of these efforts have not been met with an equal measure of goodwill from our American friends.

More disappointingly, these efforts have only been rewarded by a bellicose behaviour on the part of successive US officials, who have pursued an anti-Liberia policy in support of sanctions, an arms embargo, military, economic and diplomatic pressures against the peace-loving people of Liberia.

ARRIVAL OF US AMBASSADOR JOHN BLANEY

The arrival of John William Blaney as the new US ambassador to Liberia, following a period characterized by acrimony during the tenure of his predecessor, gave real hope to the government and people of Liberia that a new page would be turned in US-Liberia relations. This optimism was based on some positive signals emanating from circles in Washington, DC, that US policy was finally being altered toward Liberia for the better.

The Government embarked upon a maximum public awareness campaign to improve the battered US image in Liberia. Massive preparations were made to welcome Ambassador Blaney to Liberia in ceremonies befitting a Paramount Chief. Lapel pins exhibiting the American and Liberian flags symbolically linked together were distributed by the hundreds and proudly worn by American officials and their Liberian counterparts at private and public functions. Touched by these felicitations, Blaney made some broad promises as follows:

1. That he was in Liberia to stop the LURD terrorist incursions against the Liberian government and people.
2. That he would work for the improvement in relations between Liberia and the United States.
3. That he would work to improve the livelihood of the Liberian people, and
4. That he would work with the Taylor Administration to establish a road map for the way forward.

To these ends, President Taylor summoned front-line members of his Cabinet and senior Legislators to a 3-hour meeting with Ambassador Blaney to establish the basis for the proverbial road map. The president further instructed his Cabinet to maintain an open-door-policy and engage the new ambassador and his staff on all points of interest.

US INTRUSIVE POLICY

With banners welcoming Ambassador Blaney still adorning the streets of Monrovia and billboards extolling US-Liberian friendship cropping up at strategic locations, the Constructive Engagement process seemed to falter. Ambassador Blaney began visiting ghettos, internally displaced centers and out of the way villages to implement US Intrusive Policy. He explained to the desperate and starving populations that the Government of Liberia was responsible for their suffering. He implied that the Government had misled them; that the UN sanctions and arms embargo that encouraged the LURD terrorist incursions was not responsible for their plight, but rather the actions of the Taylor government. He went on to refer to government forces defending the country against Guinean-backed LURD terrorists as belligerents.
Coupled with these utterances by the Ambassador were renewed bellicose statements from the US State Department that there should be a regime change in Monrovia.

Throughout the country, Ambassador Blaney and former US military officials are moving around dedicating cheaply constructed toilets and clinics in areas with strong support for President Taylor's NPP government. USAID-Liberia and Mercy Corps, in collaboration with the US Embassy are busy recruiting local government officials, student leaders, members of parents-teachers associations, traditional leaders, ex-combatants and sex-workers to form coalitions to effect social and political change in Liberia. They are funding the illegal establishment of up 45 community-based radio stations throughout the country, and co-opting the transport companies to play propaganda audio cassettes to passengers on long-distance routes. The Intrusive Policy has targeted 2003, the elections year, for most of their programs to mature and take effect.

HASSAN BILITY AND OTHER PRISONERS OF WAR

The Liberian Government was quite amazed by the local and global pressures that the US Embassy mounted to stifle due process in the case of Hassan Bility and his co-conspirators and to secure their release. The government tried all along to protect the fact of Hassan Bility's connections to the embassy and the frantic secret negotiations that embassy officials were making to quietly slip him and a few of his co-conspirators out of the country. But the government of Liberia was forced to go public with these behind the scene arrangements when Ambassador Blaney erroneously referred to Bility as a political prisoner and continues to state erroneously that he had been tortured during his incarceration.

Even more baffling, is the fact that while the Liberian Government has aligned with the United States and its allies in the global fight against terrorism, the US government has shown unusual interest in airlifting Hassan Bility, who was arrested for associating with a terrorist organization, LURD, and operating a terrorist cell on their behalf in Monrovia.

US-BACKED SANCTIONS AGAINST LIBERIA

Having complied with the provisions of the UN Security Council Resolution 1343 that brought sanctions against Liberia, and despite the fact that Sierra Leone has returned to peace and stability with the demobilization of the RUF and the holding of democratic elections, the United States government is still pressing for the continuation of sanctions against Liberia. Two instances attest to this fact:

1. The High Diamond Council: Following strenuous efforts by the Liberian government to apply the Kimberly Process to put into place a certification regime for the export of Liberia's rough diamonds, one of the key demands of the US Security Council Resolution, United States pressures have succeeded in scuttling the process. Officials of the High Diamond Council were told in no uncertain terms by US officials in Brussels and Switzerland to frustrate Liberia's efforts to become compliant.
2. Another key demand of US Security Council Resolution 1408 is for Liberia to submit its Maritime and Forestry programs to an international audit. Initially, the United States State Department tried to coerce the Liberian Government to use a hand-picked audit firm, the Crown Agents. The Liberian government opted for an internationally recognized open bidding system to select an audit firm. The US government, the EU and other local and international representatives were present when Deloitte and Touche were selected in a transparent process from among three reputable companies that had submitted bids. No sooner had Deloitte and Touche begun their work, than the US swept the rug from under our feet again and pressured the company from New York and London to "drop the Liberian account". It is true, as Ambassador Blaney has stated in a recent press release that "the United States did not stop this firm from contracting with the government of Liberia", because they were present for the signing ceremony. But he can not deny the fact that the US did pressure the firm to drop the Liberian account after the contract was signed.

INTERNATIONAL CONTACT GROUP ON LIBERIA (ICGL)

The International Contact Group on Liberia is a group of self-appointed mediators whose stated intent is to help resolve the Liberian crisis with LURD. As much as the intent and initiative is welcome by the Liberian government, it is expected that several key issues must be taken into consideration.

a. The United States, which is a prominent member of the Contact Group, must show sincerity and good faith by unequivocally condemning LURD for carrying out terrorist aggression against the innocent people of Liberia. In the absence of this condemnation, the US role cannot be taken seriously, especially, when the UN, AU and ECOWAS have already condemned LURD.
b. The Liberian government is the legitimate democratically elected government recognized by the international community. It is unacceptable that the government will be treated by the Contact Group as a faction or be equated with the LURD terrorists.
c. The Liberian government welcomes the US statement that it does not support LURD and urges an end to all military support to the LURD, from whatever sources. But the operative question that the US must then answer if that, if the US is training the Guinean army, and the Guinean army is supporting LURD, then who really is encouraging the LURD terrorists to renew their attacks against Liberia after they were pushed back into Guinea a few months ago?

THE 2003 ELECTIONS

The Liberian government wishes to make it clear that it is committed to the democratic process and will endeavour to have elections in line with the constitution. However, it is unacceptable for any foreign entity to try to influence the results of the elections by trying to subvert the constitution or clandestinely funnel funding to favoured political parties, as the US Intrusive Policy has earmarked.

It will be recalled that in the 1997 elections, the US Government failed to assist with funding and logistics to hold the Special Elections that brought the war to an end. By now calling for the United Nations to assist with the elections, the US is once again giving indications that it does not intend to assist the Independent Elections Commission with funding and logistics. Besides, Liberia is not a mandated territory and strongly objects to any insinuation that an outside agency should supervise the elections. The government welcomes any number of Monitors to observe the elections, but not to supervise it.

US-LIBERIA RELATIONSHIP, WHICH WAY?

In spite of its best efforts to pursue its Constructive Engagement Policy with the US, the Liberian Government is convinced that such initiatives are not being reciprocated.
Nevertheless, the US must understand certain truths about Liberia:

1. The Taylor Administration is not anti-American
2. The Government and people of Liberia will do nothing to adversely affect American interests in Liberia
3. The Taylor Administration is firmly committed to the free enterprise system, democratic governance, the holding of free and fair elections, the protection of human rights, freedom of the press and the rule of law.

The Liberian government believes that the best way to build confidence and improve relations is that the US and Liberia should be talking to each other, and not at each other through press releases and counter press releases.

The US should endeavour to keep its promises to the government and people of Liberia, and not continuously sweep the rug from under our feet. The goal post should not be continually moved every time Liberia accedes to new US demands there appears to be progress on the key issues.

There is a strong sense of frustration among Liberians from all walks of life that the US is not dealing honestly with Liberia, and that her policy lacks consistency. In fact, Liberians are convinced that US policy toward Liberia is really "No Policy", or a "Hands Off" policy.

While Liberia is not deterred in pursuing its Constructive Engagement policy, it must be made clear that it is the responsibility of the government to seek the welfare of the people, maintain peace and stability and discourage any attempt by anyone to drive a wedge in the unity and cohesion of the Liberian population. The US must therefore strongly reconsider the implications of its Intrusive Policy as it targets certain disadvantaged groups to institute so-called social and political change. Any mis-guided change without due process could be disastrous for the future of Liberia as the 1980 ill-advised military coup and the prolonging of the 1990 civil war have proven.

As much as Liberia cherishes its historic relations with the US, the neglect and apathy exhibited by the US toward Liberia is creating widespread anti-American sentiments. Liberians across the board feel betrayed and disappointed over US policy, no matter how many toilets are built in ghettos or how much money is given to local NGOs. The strongest sentiment pervading the consciousness of every Liberian as the elections unfold is that, America, if you can not help an old friend, please don't hurt us.



© Robert W. Kranz  January-2003