Speeches & Floor Statements
Posted on June 13, 2003
I rise today to bring to the attention of the Senate the oppression of democracy and freedom that is now underway in Zimbabwe. As I mentioned a moment ago, a number of senators, including the senators from Kentucky and Arizona have led this body in discussions about oppression in Burma, and I share those concerns, but as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, I would be remiss if I did not discuss the struggle in Zimbabwe because that bears at least some similarity to the events in Burma. As in Burma, the leader of the democratic opposition in Zimbabwe has been imprisoned by an illegitimate government in a cruel attempt to maintain power. The so-called president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, has engaged in a systematic campaign of intimidation, torture and terror to oppress opposition to his rule over Zimbabwe. Since the election of 2000, when Mugabe's ruling party rigged the election in its favor and terrorized voters for the opposition, Zimbabwe has been thrown into a downward spiral. Youth brigades, not unlike the Hitler Youth or Chinese Red Guard roam the streets and invoke terror on those who resist Mugabe's rule. The country's infrastructure which was fairly good prior to this time has deteriorated rapidly. In the last week, the situation has grown worse. A little over one week ago, for the second time this year, the people of Zimbabwe stood up and said enough is enough. Strikes and work stoppages occurred throughout the country as many citizens engaged in a massive protest of Mugabe's illegitimate regime. Many rightly blame Mugabe, not only for political turmoil but also economic decay led by food and fuel shortages. The government's response was swift and brutal. Armed troops descended upon neighborhoods where opposition members lived. They violently beat those suspected of opposing Mugabe. More than 800 individuals were arrested. Many of them were tortured. According to the most recent reports I've seen, about 150 individuals have now been released, but only after paying an "admission of guilt" penalty of $3,000 to $5,000, a new sort of get out of jail card - admit your guilt, pay a huge fine, and out you go. Here is Mugabe's justification. He is quoted as saying, "The actions are blatantly illegal in that they are aimed at an unconstitutional removal of the country's head of state." He's essentially saying that by protesting his rule, protestors are committing a crime. And he's arresting and torturing them as a result. The only crime being committed here is the continued rule of Robert Mugabe. Just prior to the first crackdown in March, which followed a similar protest and work stoppage, Mugabe said, and I'm quoting here, "I am still the Hitler of the time." Let me say that again. He said, "I am still the Hitler of the time." He purposely chose to compare himself to Adolf Hitler, perhaps the most evil leader of the 20th century. After that announcement in March, military forces loyal to Mugabe burst into homes in pre-dawn raids, raping and beating many of those suspected of supporting the Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe's opposition party. Torture tactics included rape, electrocution, forced consumption of chemicals and urine, cigarette burning, whipping with steel cable and barbed wire, and sustained beatings. What makes these events especially tragic is that prior to Mugabe's actions, Zimbabwe was not a dilapidated country ready to collapse. On the contrary, it was a leading African nation with a strong economy and infrastructure. Zimbabwe's roads were among the best in Africa, and its agricultural sector was a major exporter. As an example of the rapid decline Zimbabwe faces, its GDP has shrunk from $9.3 billion in 2001 to only $5.4 billion today - it has been cut nearly in half in only two years. The latest news from Zimbabwe shows that Mugabe is now actively imprisoning and torturing leaders of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change or MDC. Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, is in prison and charged with treason as are hundreds of party activists. Tsvangirai lost last year's rigged presidential elections and has begun legal proceedings against Mugabe because the elections were not conducted properly. I can only hope that and the MDC survive Mugabe's violent rampage against them. Mr. President, the White House and the State Department have responded to this crisis, and I hope will continue to work to achieve a change of leadership in Zimbabwe. President Bush recently imposed sanctions on the Mugabe government. The sanctions, which began on March 7, prohibit any U.S. corporation from making business deals with Zimbabwe and also freeze any assets top Zimbabwean officials in the Mugabe government may have in U.S. banking institutions. The State Department has condemned Mugabe's actions, and taken other appropriate diplomatic action. Mr. President, the people of Zimbabwe deserve better. They deserve better than a regime that commits violence on its own people. They deserve better than to see their economic infrastructure destroyed by a dictator-on-the-rampage. And they've been standing up for themselves by actively demonstrating against this terrible regime. I hope other countries in the region will join with the United States and others in opposing this brutal regime in the hope of bringing new, democratic leadership to power in Zimbabwe.