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From worker-brc-news@lists.tao.ca Mon Mar 12 22:18:23 2001
From: William G Martin <wgmartin@binghamton.edu>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Controlling Dangerous Africans
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Date: Mon, 12 Mar 2001 22:07:20 -0500 (EST)


Privatizing Prisons from the USA to SA: Controlling Dangerous Africans across the Atlantic

By William G. Martin <wgmartin@prairienet.org> ACAS Bulletin, #59, Winter 2001

The average Black male;
Live a third of his life in a jail cell
--Dead Prez, Police State, on Let’s Get Free CD

From SA:

The policeman said to me son
They won’t build no schools anymore
All they build will be prison, prison
--Lucky Dube, Prisoner, on Prisoner CD

Convicted of robbery, the seventeen-year old prisoner was recovering from stomach surgery for a shotgun wound. This didn’t prevent the prison guards from forcing him onto a concrete floor, kneeing him in the back, and watching him writhing in pain—until part of his intestines leaked out his open wound and into his colostomy bag.

South Africa under apartheid? No, a US prison for juvenile offenders under the control of a private corporation, the Wackenhut Corporation headquartered in Miami.

Forced to light by private protests, federal investigations, and court orders, a litany of similar sexual and sadistic abuses has led state governments to terminate contracts with Wackenhut, as well as with its leading competitor in the drive to privatize US prisons, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Local and national student protests against the prison industrial system have publicized these actions; national financial press reports have reported them as well given their impact on corporate profits. 1999 and 2000 were not good years for Wackenhut or CCA.

None of this prevented the South African government, in the midst of its own privatization drive, from signing in August a $250 million deal with Wackenhut for a new prison in Louis Trichardt. Does the South African government know something that the apparently more liberal Louisiana and Texas officials do not? Even more pointedly: is the South African state following far too closely in the footsteps of US state, marking a new phase in US-African relations and US-African policy?

Containing and Criminalizing Africa: Clinton’s Legacy

At first glance there seems to be little direct connection between the Wackenhut deal and US policy or corporate movements towards Africa. Most commentary on Clinton policy towards Africa has solidly focused upon the trade vs. aid debate. This is understandable: as during previous administrations, the Clinton years have been marked by declining levels of aid and rising neo-liberal promises of development through increased trade and investment. While tourist trips to Africa by politicians and federal officials have been many, the appearance of Africa in substantive congressional legislation or executive action has largely been limited to one bill: the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which passed this last year.

As other articles in this special issue reveal, however, US corporations retain strong interests in Africa. Even if these remain largely extractive and commercial interests, rather than new productive investment—as in the removal of oil and natural resources, or the distribution and sale of goods exported to but not produced in Africa, or buying up state enterprises being sold fast and cheap—they nevertheless represent significant profit centers for large and well-connected US corporations.

What even these activities leave unnoticed, however, is how corporate interests are interwoven with a second major theme of US policy towards Africa: the containment of dangerous Africa and Africans. And here Wackenhut’s recently announced deal reveals a new era, where profits from privatization merge with a racially-stratified, global security system.

As departing Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Susan Rice recently put it to the Congressional Black Caucus:

We have consistently articulated two clear policy goals: a) integrating Africa into the global economy through promotion of democracy, economic growth and development, and conflict resolution; and b) combating transnational security threats, including terrorism, crime, narcotics, weapons proliferation, environmental degradation and disease.1

Africa has not often figured upon transnational security threat lists. Words of war and even cruise missiles have, of course, occasionally been launched at Libya and Sudan, but these actions are usually cast within the well-known pattern of official Washington’s fear and loathing of Islamic radicals in the Middle East.

Yet Clinton’s actions have spread farther, including support for North African governments that wage war on Islamic challengers, to the arming of sub-Saharan African armies surrounding the Sudan (an effort that backfired of course as the previously-hailed Renaissance leaders of Uganda, Ethiopia, and Eritrea turned this training and equipment upon other neighboring states). US military training missions have extended as well to friendly armies in West, Central and Southern Africa; here the explicit aim, following the Powell doctrine, is to avoid any possible commitment of US peacekeeping troops (as in past calls of support for efforts in Rwanda, Somalia, Sierra Leone, the D.R. Congo, etc.) while retaining control over any multilateral and especially African peacekeeping efforts.

These same aims and limitations underline the new US-controlled African Crisis Response Initiative and the Department of Defense’s African Center for Strategic Studies war college in Dakar. Equally new and notable are such projects as the FBI’s training of South African police at Quantico, and the establishment by the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs of a new International Law Enforcement Academy in Gaborone, Botswana.

As these last examples suggest, something new is afoot: it would be a mistake to focus purely upon military and intelligence work as the only security engagement of the US in Africa. For Africa is increasingly depicted as a direct threat to the people of the United States for non-military reasons: Africa, we are told, is a major source of international crime, narcotics, and disease. And this elicits a security response of a new order.

Americans have been apparently sleeping in the face of this rising threat. Speaking in September 1999 to the well-connected organizers of the National Summit on Africa, Assistant Secretary Rice accordingly asked:

How many of you know that 30 percent of the heroin intercepted at U.S. ports of entry in recent years was seized from African-controlled couriers? How many of you know that Americans lose over $2 Billion a year to African white-collar crime syndicates...?2

Worse of all for most commentators is the AIDS threat, with a constant drumbeat telling us in the United States that all aid and policy towards Africa should center upon AIDS, and the only solution is US drugs, supplied by US multinationals, at prices no African nation can afford much less administer—in which case the US has now offered African governments loans to buy the drugs—increasing Africa’s intolerable debt burden (see Meredeth Turshen’s article in this issue).

Indeed of all the initiatives launched by the Clinton administration the creation of Africa as a direct disease, drug, and terrorist threat to Americans stands out as the most novel, and in all likelihood most lasting, contribution to African policy.

The Prison Industrial Complex: from U.S. to Africa?

But what does this have to do with private corporations? Simply put: security and prisons are a big business—and one that draws upon fears of Africa and Black youth. As Bulletin readers are surely aware, instilling fear of crime and criminalizing African-Americans has been an accelerating and profitable feature of the US landscape. By mid-1999 nearly 1.9 million persons, 1 out of every 147 persons in the United States, were in prison,3 with strikingly disproportionate numbers of Black and Latino young men being detained, arrested, and imprisoned. As the Bureau of Justice reports:

Among the almost 1.9 million incarcerated offenders, more than 560,000 were black males between 20 and 39 years old. Overall, black men and women were at least 7 times more likely than whites and 2 times more likely than Hispanics to have been in prison or jail.4

And from imprisonment flows political disfranchisement, for many states permanently withhold the right to vote from all persons with felony convictions: one in fifty adults, 3.9 million people, have lost the right to vote—and over 70 percent of these persons are no longer in prison. African-American men are especially targeted: in nine states, between 25 and 31 percent of African-American men have lost the right to vote for life. Human Rights Watch and the Sentencing Project estimate that if these trends continue, by the next generation 40 percent of African-American men could be permanently deprived of the right to vote in the fourteen states that disfranchise ex-offenders.5

A growing movement targeting this prison industrial system has emerged, particularly in California where groups such as the Prison Activist Resource Center and activists like Angel Davis have been active.6 The Black Radical Congress has also launched a major initiative on Education Not Incarceration, holding workshops in New York City,7 while the Prison Moratorium Project and other groups such as Critical Resistance East have long been active as well.8 Such efforts bridge across academic, activist and cultural lines, including leadership from within the hip-hop community, as represented by Raptivism Records’ No More Prisons: the Album CD.9 Meanwhile the campaign to prevent the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal has become a world-wide movement—including even work by ACAS in sponsoring panels at African Studies Association meetings and the online petition for scholars and students of Africa (see the petition on the ACAS web site: http://acas.prairienet.org/mumia.html).

As this activity suggests, a growing movement is organizing against the criminalizing of Africa-America, and the imposition of structural adjustment and the privatization of state functions at home. The outlines of this story for the USA are increasingly well charted and available.10 What is unexpected is that the merchants of imprisonment would expand their operations and profit centers to Africa.

Wackenhut in Louis Trichardt

This became publicly announced on August 11, 2000, when South Africa’s Minister of Correctional Services, Ben Skosana, announced a 1.7 billion Rand ($230 million) deal with US multinational Wackenhut International for the building and management of a new high security prison in Louis Trichardt. With over 3,000 beds, this would be one of Wackenhut’s largest prison operations in the world.

This number of beds will hardly dent, it must be noted, the massive overcrowding in South Africa’s prisons. Still, the attraction for the South African government for such an arrangement is not hard to suggest. As readers of the U.S. or British press are well aware, the South Africa’s crime rate has been made famous around the world. The South Africa state has, moreover, inherited an apartheid-based justice and prison system, one being fed by a high poverty and unemployment rate, a legacy of distrust and revolt against a racist state and its agents, and the harsh realities of a police force trained to enforce apartheid rather justice.

When matched to the ANC government’s commitment to the neo-liberal principle of selling off state enterprises, privatizing prisons becomes a low-cost response to popular demands for attacking the crime problem. Here the drop in the US crime rate has led some South Africans to tout the US imprisonment model. As South Africa’s Mail and Guardian editorialized, The case of the US demonstrates to South Africa that even amid poverty and inequality it is possible to reverse the trend towards greater crime... the propensity of [U.S.] courts to convict and imprison criminals has made a major contribution to the fall in crime.11 Few US observors would draw such conclusions, given the lack of evidence for any correlation between crime and imprisionment, especially for the large number of persons, especially poor and black youth, imprisoned for non-violent drug offenses.

Readers familiar with the siting practices of US prisons would also not be surprised to learn that Louis Trichardt is as far as one can get from South Africa’s major cities (and thus inmates’ families) as one can get without leaving the country. Indeed, its origins lie in the far northern flights of Voortrekkers from the British, with Louis Trichardt arriving in the area in 1836, just inside the present northern border with Zimbabwe

And similar too to the US, the local Town Council has underwritten the prison by donating the land for it. Furthermore, it appears from published reports that Wackenhut has invested only $3.5 million to get a $230 million contract—in addition to free land, financing is from South African financial houses arranged with its South African partner, an investment holding company headed by three persons with no experience in running a prison.12 It would not seem to take very long indeed for profits coming to Wacknhut’s US offices to overwhelm any investment flow from the United States to South Africa.

Wackenhut: from the USA to the World

Founded in Miami in 1954 by an ex-FBI agent, Wackenhut has for almost fifty years sold security services to private corporations and the US government. Its connections with the government and especially military and security agencies have been close, making it now the largest supplier of security services to the US federal government. Over the years its board and staff have been heavily populated with veterans of US intelligence and military agencies, including General Mark Clark, Ralph E. Davis of the John Birch Society, former FBI director Clarence Kelley, former CIA deputy director Frank Carlucci, former Admiral and deputy CIA director Bobby Ray Iman, CIA director William Casey, and Jorge Mas Canosa, leader of the right-wing Cuban American National Foundation. Articles in Spy magazine and others detail unconfirmed intelligence services to the CIA and private corporations.13

What is uncontested is the leap by Wackenhut and similar firms from national to global operations. Wackenhut’s protection contracts cover, for example, nuclear power plants; US government nuclear research labs, including emergency response SWAT teams for nuclear weapons facilities in South Carolina and Nevada; Cape Canaveral and shuttle landing sites in Africa; at least 20 US embassies across the world; GM plants in Latin America; Nike, Campells Soup, and Levi offices, Ontario Hydro, and even facilities run by an enterprise that one would think could protect its own, the world’s leading providing of security services: the Pentagon. Indeed the Department of Defense just awarded Wackenhut its James S. Cogwheel Award for Outstanding Industrial Security Achievement.14

As this sample list suggests, the protection racket is now a world-wide multinational operation, with the global security industry estimated to be worth over $100 billion annually. Wackenhut is among the largest firms: for the first six months of 2000, Wackenhut reported revenues of $1.2 billion, an increase of 18 percent over the same six months in 1999. Prison services accounted for $264 million of this total, up 30 percent over the same period in 1999.

Wackenhut Corrections

Prison profits are a relatively new but critical part of Wackenhut’s growth story. Indeed, it was with the rise of privatization world-wide that Wackenhut turned to prison management as a profit center. Opening its first prison only in 1989, Wackenhut now controls over 40,000 prisoners in over 50 prisons in the United States, England, Scotland, Wales, Puerto Rico, New Zealand, Curacao, Australia, and Canada—and now South Africa.

Wackenhut’s problems have grown as steadily, with insistent local protests now forcing state investigations of privatized prison operations. In New Mexico, a 500 page legislative report calling for an overhaul of state prisons specifically attacked two run by Wackenhut, including one that had a riot in August 1999 that left one inmate and guard dead, revealing understaffing at Wal-Mart wages. In Texas Wackenhut was stripped of a $12 million-a-year contract in September 1999 and fined $625,000; twelve former guards were indicted for having sex with female inmates—as occurred in another Florida Wackenhut facility.

Among the most notorious reports of prisoner abuse are those that emanated from Wackenhut’s juvenile prison in Louisiana.15 Indeed conditions were so bad that the US Justice Department sued Wackenhut seeking to protect imprisoned boys from indoor tear gas attacks, pepper spray, and the lack of basic items as underwear, blankets, medical treatment and food. In September 2000 the State of Louisiana agreed in Federal Court to end its experiments with privately-run juvenile prisons, and specifically prohibited form placing any more inmates in Wackenhut’s Jena facility.

Owing an empty facility isn’t cheap, and Wackenhut has publicly warned investors that fourth quarter profits (2000) will be lower than expected due in large part to loses associated with deactivating the Jena facility as well increased liability costs and wages.16 While Wackenhut continues to open new facilities in the US as in San Diego, and a much higher proportion of prison beds could be privatized, long-term troubles in the rich North are clearly a major problem for the corporation: protests are high, crime is down, and states with budget surpluses are less likely to privatize security and prison services. Major competitor Corrections Corporation of America, now listed as Prison Realty, with 55 percent of the private prison market, reported a loss of $265 million last year;17 its shares fell from a high near $40 a year in 1998 to around $2 in late 2000; Wackenhut has seen its shares fall from over $30 to $9.

Going Multinational: reaching out to Africa

Expanding overseas has long been a proven path to profits for US firms. And as noted above, Wackenhut has long provided security services to corporations and governments overseas. Yet a natural obstacle arises: while the Pentagon, US State Department and US multinationals can afford to pay first-world rates, few African, Asian, or Latin American governments have the resources to generate the kinds of profits Wackenhut and other privatizing firms are used to in the rich North. Hence for example the attention paid by Wackenhut to opening facilities in Australia, England, and New Zealand.

The South African prison promises to thus break new ground—can Wackenhut make money where others have failed to venture? If one can get an average of $45 per prisoner per day in North America (and up to $80 in some cases), can one make a profit on Rand 85 ($11) per prisoner per day in South Africa? Are South African wages—labor accounting for around 60 percent of prison revenues—low enough to make this possible? Certainly the demand for jobs is there: when applications were handed out in Louis Trichardt for temporary jobs associated with the new prison, six thousand persons rushed the Department of Labour officials, running over and injuring four unemployed persons.18

If profits flow in South Africa, would this open up the possibility of privatizing prison operations in the stronger, wealthier Asian and Latin American states? Would not even poorer African states seek to privatize their prisons in order to lower state expenditures in the eyes of the IMF and World Bank—as in the case of rumors surrounding Tanzania? The calculations are surely being run at corporate headquarters and government ministries. In this sense, just how cheap prisoners can be maintained in Louis Trichardt could determine the global expansion of prison-for-profit multinationals. Given Wackenhut’s U.S. record, this doesn’t bode well for the reform of the apartheid prison complex, South African prisoners, their families, and communities.

Controlling dangerous flows from Africa to America

It is not only prisons, however, that generate profits. As noted above, US facilities in Africa require protection services, as African well know from the fortress architecture and mentality that surround US embassies and installations on the continent. Even more dangerous are uncontrolled flows of Africans to the rich centers of the world. And here Wackenhut has found another special niche: protecting the Anglo world from dangerous immigrants—as the welcome received at border posts by Black travelers and political refugees reveals all too well.

Indeed few human beings have fewer rights than those detained at border posts, lacking as they do citizenship or nearby family and communities to protect them and protest on their behalf. Yet where civil and human rights are unprotected, yet another profit opportunity exists: some of Wackenhut’s most profitable operations are immigration detention facilities in the United States, England, and Australia. And these opportunities are growing: between 1990 and 1998 the number of Federal inmates held for immigration offenses grew by 330%, faster than even the 107% increase for drug offenders.19

One detention center is located just past JFK airport in Queens, New York, where Wackenhut runs a 200-bed facility, the final destination for the hundreds of asylum seekers who land in the city every year. And under a new 1996 law, the INS routinely detains for months, sometimes years, even the most valid and non-threatening asylum-seekers. As a lead story in the New York Times recently recounted, this includes many Africans fleeing clear cases of persecution. As one Congolese man escaping torture at the hands of the Kabila regime recounted his months in Wackenhut’s windowless rooms: We don’t get any fresh air, any sunlight... we never go outside.20 The Village Voice similarly highlighted the plight of Nigerian detainees at the facility in an expose titled Wackenhut Detention Ordeal.21 Small wonder then that detainees have staged two hunger strikes in the past two years, suicide attempts are common, and demonstration in support of the human rights of these immigrant detainees have taken place outside INS’s New York offices.

What is Wackenhut International doing in Louis Trichardt?

For Wackenhut, the answer making money is obvious. For the South African state, the answer surely lies in privatization and a seemingly no-cost response to popular demands to deal with crime.

Yet this not just a local story, or even the story of one multinational’s expansion into Africa. For Wackenhut’s expansion is part of wider trends: rampant neo-liberalism with the shrinking and shirking of state responsibilities, and the escalating numbers of the poor, and especially black youth, denied education and employment—and all too often being destined for a violent life in prison or the fields of war. This scenario fits all too well the stark, new depiction of Africa and Africans put forward by US politicians and policy makers. Far from being the home of civilization, post-apartheid, post-Cold War Africa is no longer targeted for modernization but rather fear, a source of terror, disease, crime and drugs. This generates in turn a profitable opportunity: the construction of an overlapping set of prisons, detention centers, and security check points. Such is the apparent cost, and profit, of protecting behind fortress walls the rich and predominantly white world, whether it be the Hamptons in New York, the Gold Coast in Chicago, or Sandton in South Africa.

Endnotes and Links

* Thanks to Jim Cason and Michael West for comments on an earlier version.

1 The Clinton-Gore Administration Record in Africa Remarks to the Foreign Affairs Braintrust, Annual Congressional Black Caucus, Washington, DC, September 15, 2000; online at: http://www.state.gov/www/policy_remarks/2000/000915_rice_cbc.html (accessed November 3, 2000 ); emphasis added. See also Rice’s statement to the U.S.-Africa Energy Ministers Conference, Tucson, Arizona, December 14, 1999 (http://www.state.gov/www/policy_remarks/1999/991214_rice_energy.html (accessed September 29, 2000), where she similarly stated: the United States is pursuing two over-arching policy goals on the continent: accelerating Africa’s integration into the global economy and combating transnational security threats—like terrorism, proliferation, environmental degradation and disease—that put at greater risk both Africans and Americans daily.

2 U.S. Department of State Susan E. Rice, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, The National Summit—East Coast Regional Summit, Keynote Address Baltimore, Maryland, Friday, September 10, 1999. 3 Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 1999, April 19, 2000, online at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/pjim99.htm (accessed October 21, 2000).

4 Allen J. Beck, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 1999, U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, April 2000, NCJ 181643, online at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/ascii/pjim99.txt (accessed October 8, 2000).

5 These statistics and projections are drawn directly from the joint Human Rights Watch-Sentencing Project report Losing the Vote: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States, online at http://www.hrw.org/reports98/vote/ ; a summary release is at: http://www.hrw.org/hrw/about/initiatives/disenfra.htm (accessed November 3, 2000).

6 See for example the web sites run by the Prison Activist Resource Center (http://www.prisonactivist.org/), the ARC journal Colorlines, online at http://home.ican.net/~edtoth/lawprisonrace.html, the Justice Policy Institute, online at http://www.cjcj.org/jpi/clearinghouse.html, the Prison Moratorium Project online at http://www.nomoreprisons.org/front.htm, and Critical Resistance East, online at http://www.criticalresistance.org/creast/, among others.

7 As in the BRC-sponsored Education Works, Prisons Don’t Teach-in and Forum in Harlem on October 27-28, 2000; further information is online at: http://www.blackradicalcongress.org/organizing/campaigns/index.html

8 See the sources and links in footnotes 6 and 7 above.

9 See http://www.raptivism.com/album.html

10 See sources cited above and below, as well as such articles as Eric Schlosser, The Prison Industrial Complex, The Atlantic Monthly, December 1998, online at http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/98dec/prisons.htm (accessed November 3, 2000). Angela Davis, Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex, Colorlines, Fall 1998, online at: http://www.corpwatch.org/trac/feature/humanrts/cases/p-davis.html (accessed November 3, 2000).

11 Daily Mail & Guardian, Ban guns, build jails, fire Sydney, Editorial, January 15, 1999, online at www.mg.co.za/mg/news/99jan2/15jan-crime.html (accessed December 3, 2000).

12 Willem Kempen, What Makes these Women Want to be Behind Bars, Financial Mail, September 1, 2000, p. 50.

13 John Connolly, Inside the Shadow CIA, SPY Magazine, September 1992.

14 Even universities hail Wackenhut: in October 2000 the President of Johns Hopkins, Dr. William R. Brody, presented Mr. Wackenhut the university’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.

15 See among others, James McNair, Wackenhut a Prisoner of Its Own Problems, Miami Herald, April 15, 2000.

16 See Wackenhut press release dated September 19,2000, WHC’s Third and Fourth Quarter Earnings to be below Previous Expectations, online at http://www.wackenhut.com/wcc-pr.htm#WCC Press Release -90 (accessed October 21, 2000).

17 For details on the financial troubles of the private prison industry see for example Charles H. Haddad, Private Prisons Don’t Work, Business Week, September 11, 2000, p. 95, and on Wackenhut specifically James McNair, Wackenhut a Prisoner of Its Own Problems, Miami Herald, April 15, 2000.

18 As reported in the local newspaper, Zoutspanberger Mirror, September 15, 2000, online at: http://www.zoutnet.co.za/archive/2000/september/15th/newssept15.asp?StoNum=9 (accessed November 3, 2000).

19 Allen Beck, Prisoners in 1999, Bureau of Justice, Statistics Bulletin, August 2000, online at: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/p99.pdf (accessed February 18, 2001), p.12.

20 Eyal Press, No Refuge, New York Times, September 17, 2000.

21 Alisa Solomon, Wackenhut Detention Ordeal, Village Voice, September 1 - 7, 1999, online at: http://www.villagevoice.com/features/9935/solomon.shtml (accessed November 3, 2000).