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Rice goes to Central Asia

Scott Patterson
By Scott Patterson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 24, 2005
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Ten days ago, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrapped up a three-day visit to Central Asia. The main purpose of the trip: to promote democracy and human rights in the region. Despite such noble claims, however, democracy and human rights were the last things on Rice's mind.

Rice's actual rationale for the tour was to help the U.S. save face in lieu of the royal snubbing it received from the region's most powerful players, namely Uzbekistan, a country that had been a staunch ally in the war against terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks.

In May, Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov called in the military to put down a 4,000-strong protest rally in the country's fourth-largest city, Andijan. They did it with guns. The death toll, according to international estimates, rose above 700.

While fighting a war against "tyranny" in Iraq, the hypocrisy would be too great if America were to turn a blind eye. Thus, it demanded an independent investigation into the shootings, a request which Uzbekistan had no intention of fulfilling. Consequently, relations between the two terrorism-fighting allies rapidly deteriorated.

In July, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization - to which Uzbekistan belongs - issued a statement urging the U.S. to set a deadline for the removal of its Central Asian military bases. Weeks later, Uzbekistan made the declaration official policy, giving the U.S. six months to leave.

Today, America's last remaining Central Asian air base is in Kyrgyzstan, the first stop of Rice's Central Asian tour. Moreover, Uzbekistan was excluded from her trip, a decision indicating just how badly U.S.-Uzbek relations have soured.

Rice wasted no time in bringing up democracy, assuring Kyrgyzstan that it had "a steady friend in the United States who believes too in democratic values" and affirming that "as those democratic values take root ... relations ... will only grow."

Despite holding its first free elections, Kyrgyzstani President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has done little to change the country's highly authoritative constitution, which grants enormous presidential powers. Instead, he has embarked on his own consolidation of power tour. If this continues, the regime that arises will be as authoritarian as its predecessor.

The U.S., however, for fear of losing its last Central Asian outpost, has not criticized this. Instead, it praises Kyrgyzstan for its blossoming democracy. Thus, when Rice speaks of democracy, she is effectively endorsing the rise of a new authoritarian regime.

Rice's stay in Kazakhstan was equally troublesome. Arriving in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, Rice stormed ahead with her signature democracy speech, urging Kazakhstan's longtime ruler, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to hold free and fair elections in December.

The Kazakhstani opposition, however, said there's no chance for that.

Bulat Abilov, the campaign manager for an opposition leader attempting to run against Nazarbayev, said masked men raided one of the campaign's offices just a day before Rice arrived and accused Rice of not pressing Nazarbayev hard enough to stop what Abilov labeled "the harassment of opposition journalists and candidates."

He said main U.S. issues were energy cooperation and the war on terrorism. Democracy and human rights only comes in third. Rice waited for a joint press conference with the Kazakhstani president to comment on the matter.

"I think if we were interested only in oil and the war on terrorism, we would not be speaking in the way that we are about democracy here or in Saudi Arabia or throughout the Middle East," she said. "And so quite clearly while we do have (other) interests ... we have in no way allowed those interests to get in the way of our open and clear defense of freedom."

Nazarbayev is running for, at the very least, a third term. The constitution allows for no more than two. The main opposition newspaper, Respublica, was shut down two months ago. Two major opposition leaders are in jail; a third is in exile. All were arbitrarily targeted for political reasons. The country has never held free elections.

Despite this, Rice insists that "speaking" about democracy is sufficient. Right. China says it's a democracy and we laugh. But by Rice's logic, it's no laughing matter because although China is "speaking" about democracy, democracy is obviously a priority.

The bottom line is this: The Bush administration's freedom agenda is a farce. Day in, day out, the U.S. government lies to the world, and Rice's Central Asia trip proves this further. If the U.S. really sought freedom, it would do more than just talk about it.

Scott Patterson is an international studies senior. He can be reached at

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