Two Somali 'pirates' captured after they attacked a Spanish fishing boat are likely to spend a long time behind bars, Agustín Velloso Santisteban writes in this week’s Pambazuka News, given that they are also poor, black and Muslim. Highlighting the struggle for survival and hardships so many Somalis face, Santisteban suggests that there are other more dangerous ‘pirates’ out there that ought to be pursued and brought to book for far worse crimes.
Oh, pirates! What a wonderful word. It brings back sweet memories from our childhood. Unscrupulous, merciless, astute characters; today armed with automatic weapons. We are longing to see before the High Court in Madrid, Spain, the two captured by our brave Atalanta operatives in the Indian Ocean on 4 October.
We have had enough of the corrupt CEOs who sail toward offshore banks. We do not want to hear anymore about the prime ministers who attack and invade faraway countries. What we really want is to see real pirates. While the corsairs and freeloaders of urban and financial speculation are well-known and still on the loose, you can confidently expect that these two detainees will spend a long time behind Spanish bars. Everyone knows that they are poor, black, Muslim and dared to attack a Spanish fishing boat.
PRISON PREFERABLE TO FREEDOM?
However, if you think twice, you might conclude that their future in prison is not so gloomy. First of all, they will enjoy three hot meals a day and they will see a doctor, probably for the first time in their lives. Besides, they will be spared the random bombing of their land by United States F-16s, as well as the bullets shot by Ethiopians and Somalis working for Imperialism.
In spite of the tales told by NATO and European Union security high priests, who make a comfortable living out of sending troops to third world lands and seas like Somalia and the Indian Ocean, supposedly swamped by pirates on a rampage against European fishing boats, in the real world, things are the other way round.
Perhaps Spanish fishermen might forgive Somalis for not knowing the differences between the foreigners who approach their coasts with neither warning nor permission, in order to take away their fisheries, land in order to impose a political regime, or simply choose to dump their nuclear waste in the seabed.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Somali fishermen live in one of the world’s poorest countries. Life expectancy is approximately 48 years. Around 60 per cent of the population is illiterate, while there is no compulsory basic education law. Close to 36 per cent of infants are underweight. There are half a million refugees and another million internally displaced. Hundred of thousands undergo similar living conditions. Almost everything is scarce, especially human rights.
Unicef announces that ‘a Somali child’s chances of surviving to adulthood are among the lowest of children anywhere in the world. Add to this the fact that the odds of the child’s mother dying during pregnancy or in childbirth are also extremely high. These high death rates stem from the interaction of a number of causes set within a complex socio-political context, but are largely attributable to disease, dehydration, malnutrition, lack of safe water, and poor sanitation.’
GOOD PIRATE, BAD PIRATE
Perhaps Somalis might forgive Spanish fishermen for not knowing the difference between illegal fishing in Somalia and in Norway, nor that each people might have different ways of protecting what belongs to them.
In 2005 a Norwegian Navy vessel seized a Galician boat illegally fishing halibut. The Navy communiqué says that ‘during the inspection we found out that the boat had large amounts of halibut hidden in its hold’. It also reports that ‘we ordered the boat to sail to Tromso (a north-western city), but the Spanish captain refused to comply.’
Perhaps one might forgive the Norwegians for being so insistent. The very next day (20 November) they seized another Spanish fishing boat: ‘The Garoya is the second fishing boat captured in two days. It has been reported that it had more than 100 tonnes of halibut in its hold, just like the Monte Meixueiro seized yesterday. Its captain has been charged with providing misleading information to the fishing authorities and tampering with the books.’
Perhaps one might forgive the Spanish mass media for not reporting the story of Spanish boats seized in the past, throughout the seven seas. Boats have been captured by Norwegian, Moroccan, Irish, Canadian, South African, and British patrols…
It is rather ironic that the British engage today in chasing Spanish pirates, although they might be forgiven for this, since classical Spanish author Lope de Vega and Literature Nobel Prize winner Garcia Marquez – let alone film directors – were inspired by Sir Francis Drake.
THE STATE OF SOMALIA
Somalia has not had a real government in the last fifteen years. During this period, the king of the seas (and indeed of the sky and the whole world), the greatest pirate of all times, ordered yet another military operation in Somalia.
Siad Barre, former Somalia president was a client of the Soviets during the seventies, but this did not prevent the United States from supporting him during the eighties. When the White House decided to support the warlords in their war against the Islamists from 2000 on, the US president did not hesitate.
Westerners might be forgiven for only remembering the killing of 19 marines (praised afterwards in a Hollywood film) who took part in the Mogadishu military operation carried out by the United States in the early 90s, while forgetting the approximately 1000 Somalis that were killed in the attack.
This operation capped many years of US action in Somalia. Somalis, like other lesser peoples, enjoyed US international aid, which mainly means shipping arms to a country in order for the beneficiaries to kill each other, and at the same time providing political support to justify the killing according to the motive in fashion: communism, drug trafficking, Islamist terror, tribal fighting and so on.
One has to add the dumping of US subsidised agricultural produce in Somalia, and other political and economic interventions related to oil and strategic interests, to produce a ravaged nation, physically and morally devastated.
Somali seas have not been spared foreign interventions. As Johann Hari writes in ‘You are being lied to about the pirates’ (The Independent, January 9th, 2009)’, some Western countries have taken advantage of the lack of government in Somalia to dump their nuclear waste in its waters. For Somalis, the consequences are as harmful and long lasting as the consequences of war.
To make matters worse, Somali fishers watch huge foreign ships taking away tons of fish while they barely manage to obtain some kilos with their skiffs.
Perhaps Somali fishers might be forgiven for dreaming of their sons and daughters enjoying the riches the foreigners take away for their children.
HOW THE WEST WINS
Spanish fishers fishing in the seas around Somalia and people who eat their produce back in Spain, might be forgiven for cherishing basic wishes: working in peace and ingesting fish proteins respectively. They could also be forgiven for electing politicians who guarantee the fulfilment of their wishes, no matter what the price, other people’s life included.
These politicians might also be forgiven for setting up a Holy Alliance with their neighbours, in order to send warships supported by warplanes to compete for food with poor Somalis in the Indian Ocean, although they might negotiate fishing permits before fishing, or even pay fines if they are caught cheating, as has happened many times in the past with Spanish vessels.
However, it cannot be forgiven that Spanish and other Westerners – who know how Somalis are mercilessly being crushed – put the blame on Somalis and go after them when they confront the real pirates.
Pirates have traditionally been well viewed by the people, in novels and in films. They only became revolting when they took over governments and corporations.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
 Operation Atalanta is a campaign by the European Union to stop the ‘piracy off the Somali coast’. The joint naval patrol includes vessels from Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. A Spanish frigate captured two of the bunch of ‘pirates’ who seized the Spanish fishing boat ‘Alacrana’, and both are now in a Spanish prison awaiting to be taken to court. English version by the author revised by Machetera.