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07.02.2021 – Pressenza IPA

This post is also available in: Portuguese

Assange Verdict, ‘Severe Blow to Press Freedom’: Chomsky
(Image by Democracy Now)

Though WikiLeaks founder will not be extradited to the U.S., the America-led war on the press goes on. In an exclusive interview with Brazilian journalist Edu Montesanti, Chomsky strongly opposes Washington’s accusation, that the Australian journalist poses a threat to American security: “The persecution of Assange is politically motivated

By Edu Montesanti

British Judge Vanessa Baraitser has blocked Julian Assange’s extradition from the U.K to the U.S., last January, the 4th. She found that because U.S. prison conditions are so deleterious, so it would be unjust and oppressive to extradite WikiLeaks founder. The Australian journalist’s defense claims that U.S. prison conditions, including solitary confinement, Special Administrative Measures, and extreme restrictions at ADX Florence, would drive Assange to suicide.

Assange, who remains in custody at Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh in south-east London, is facing up to 175 years in prison for publishing, in 2010, U.S. government documents that exposed war crimes and human rights abuses.

Through some 251,287 diplomatic cables, more than 400,000 classified U.S. army reports from the Iraq War, and 90,000 from the War in Afghanistan – with extracts first published by The New York Times, The Guardian, Der SpiegelLe Monde, and El País -, WikiLeaks revealed uncounted civilian casualties by the U.S. military, rampant U.S. corruption all over the world spying on, boycotting democratic governments, as well as dirty politics inside several countries (see a list of WikiLeaks’ most important revelations, at the end of this report).

Defense lawyer Ed Fitzgerald said the “natural consequences” of the judge’s ruling, which ordered Assange’s discharge, “must be that he regains his liberty, at least conditionally.” Assange’s lawyer argued, too, that since October 2019, WikiLeaks founder is detained solely on the basis of the U.S. extradition request. “Now that the judge has ruled against extradition, there is no more reason to keep him in prison,” the lawyer pointed out.

Two days after having blocked the Australian journalist’s extradition, the Londoner judge denied Assange’s bail application, keeping him arrested at Belmarsh.

According to Noam Chomksy, in an exclusive interview with this author, the court decision was a disgrace, and because of the precedents, it gets dangerous. 

“The decision makes it possible to regard Assange as mentally ill, so what he released to the public can be dismissed as the productions of a sick mind,” tells this report the legendary American dissent, linguist, philosopher, sociologist, political scientist, and author of more than one-hundred books, “arguably the most important intellectual alive today,” according to The New York Times.

“Ray of Light for Julian” 

“Personal victory for Julian, which is great. Another severe blow to freedom of the press because of the nature of the verdict,”  adds Chomsky, who co-chairs the Assange Defense Committee.

By condemning Assange’s WikiLeaks, all other journalists across the globe are at risk, too, setting a too very dangerous precedent allowing the U.S. government to decide what gets published, and who should be prosecuted in an American court by just practicing journalism – which is already happening, to a certain degree especially at YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

As once observed by Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn, a “monopoly control of sensitive state information” is at stake.

“There was one ray of light: Assange will not be sent to rot for the rest of his life in a U.S. prison,” rejoices Chomsky, despite everything.

Journalism as a Crime

The British judge summarized, too, her lengthy opinion and the arguments at WikiLeaks, strongly condemning Assange’s job. “The rest of Baraitser’s decision was a complete capitulation to the U.S.  Every U.S. government charge is accepted without comment, however absurd. The detailed refutations in defense testimony are totally ignored,” regrets Chomsky to this report.

Undermining the U.S. First Amendment protections of a free press, Judge Baraitser exposed her view on WikiLeaks’ job this way, considered highly dangerous by experts like Chomsky himself, and several lawyers in the U.S. and abroad. Some of Judge Baraitser’s awful points:

  • Assange’s conduct “went beyond that of a journalist” in agreeing to help Chelsea Manning crack a password and in telling her that “curious eyes never run dry,” encouraging her to leak more files;
  • The release of unredacted cables was “indiscriminate”;
  • Defense arguments about Assange’s political opinions were “extraneous”;
  • There was insufficient evidence that the charges were “pressurized” by the Trump Administration and instead showed healthy internal debate;
  • Though the intelligence community has harshly criticized WikiLeaks, it doesn’t speak for the administration;
  • It isn’t the U.K. court’s place to comment on the case of UC Global spying on Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy, as it doesn’t have access to court documents in the case against UC Global in Spain;
  • On whether it would be oppressive to extradite: I accepted Professor Kopelman opinion that Mr. Assange suffers from a recurrent depressive disorder, that Assange has suicidal ideation, and would be ‘single-minded’ in an attempt to end his life;
  • Potential conditions in a U.S. prison: C.I.A. views Assange as hostile, still a security risk; Assange likely to be sent to ADX Florence, would be held in serious isolation;
  • The purpose of Special Administrative Measures is to minimize communications, and prisoners have extreme limitations. These conditions were considered by all experts to have a deleterious impact on Assange’s mental health;
  • Mr. Assange has the intellect and determination to follow through with suicidal ideation;
  • Therefore I rule it would be unjust to extradite Mr. Assange. The U.S. has the right to appeal.

Noam Chomsky says he would not be surprised if we learn someday that Judge Baraitser made the decision not to extradite Assange, as a favor to President Biden, who will be spared the embarrassment of an international scandal over a life sentence for the Australian journalist.

“We may perhaps attribute these judicial proceedings to the ‘special relationship, the euphemism for Britain’s decline from the leading global power to a vassal of its successor in this ugly role,” points out for the current report the University of Arizona Professor, from his residence in Tucson where he lives with his Brazilian wife Valeria.

According to Cockburn, “WikiLeaks did what all journalists should do, which is to make important information available to the public, enabling them to make evidence-based judgments on the world around them, their governments and state crimes.”

Former C.I.A. agent and whistleblower John Kiriakou said in an interview with this journalist, in December of 2018: “Assange did not steal the information. He was simply provided the information, which he then made public.”

Shortly after the London hearing last January, the 4th, Washington stated, however, the American regime would appeal Judge Beraitser’s decision: The U.S. Justice Department said it was “extremely disappointed” by the British judge’s ruling, adding: “We will continue to seek Mr. Assange’s extradition.”

“My guess is that, secretly, the Justice Department was quite pleased with the ruling, and may find some pretext to let it rest – perhaps concurring in the judgment that Assange suffers from psychiatric problems,” Noam Chomsky observes for this report, who states that “Assange’s crime is to have performed the work of a serious journalist: to provide the public with critical information that the US government does not want them to have.”

“Julian Assange is a journalist. He should never have been charged with a crime,” told Kiriakou, also a member at Assange Defense, in his interview with this author.

“By demonizing the messenger, governments seek to poison the message,” once wrote Chomsky to the British The Independent.

State Enemy

Former State Secretary Mike Pompeo slammed WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” adding that “we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, in April of 2017, that prosecuting Assange is a “priority” for him

Former U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and then-Vice President Joe Biden called Assange a “terrorist.”

Despite having declined to prosecute Assange, the Obama administration was the one that most pursued whistleblowers in U.S. history.

Espionage Act: U.S. War on Journalism

“The declaration of war came today. This is a historic day, and a very challenging one for American democracy.”

Prosecutors in Northern Virginia charged Julian Assange under the Espionage Act of 1917, with conspiring to commit unlawful computer intrusion based on his alleged agreement to try to help Chelsea Manning break an encoded portion of passcode that would have permitted her to log on to a classified military network under another user’s identity.  

Manning took complete responsibility for her actions and said that Assange had not pushed her to take them.  “No one associated with W.L.O. [the WikiLeaks organization] pressured me into sending any more information,” she said at the time. “I take full responsibility,” the former U.S. military said in a court in 2013.

The Assange case is the first time the Espionage Act has been used against a journalist for not only publishing classified information, posing a serious threat to U.S. security but also, according to the accusation, for putting at risk WikiLeaks’s sources.

“Obama’s record in this regard was shameful. The Espionage Act was enacted during World War I to punish spies. It has not been tested in court, and might well be ruled unconstitutional if it were,” points out Chomsky to this report.

According to U.S. lawyer and civil liberties advocate, Ben Wizner at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), any prosecution of Assange for WikiLeaks’ publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional. “It would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations,” Wizner fears.

“Obama broke new ground by using it more than all previous administrations combined, not against spies but against ‘leakers’ who were releasing classified material to the public,” remembers Chomsky.

U.S. human rights lawyer Carey Shenkman said, during his testimony last September in the London Court:

“What is now concluded, by journalists and publishers generally, is that any journalist in any country on earth – in fact, any person – who conveys secrets that do not conform to the policy positions of the U.S. administration can be shown now to be liable to be charged under the Espionage Act of 1917.”

State against Citizens

The U.S.’s main allegation is that WikiLeaks poses a threat to the country’s national security.

A refuted thesis by Chomsky, in an interview with this journalist: “In theory, the material is classified for ‘security reasons.’ But inspection of the rich record of declassified material shows that the ‘security’ in question is very commonly security of state power from its domestic enemy, the domestic population.”

The American intellectual concisely completes his idea related to it, according to a possible Washington regime’s view: These annoying creatures have to be kept in the dark about what is being done in their name, though not in their interest.”

Chomsky’s exposition above makes us remember Pentagon spokesman, Geoff Morrell, who instead of commenting on U.S. military tortures at Guantanamo Bay detention then revealed by WikiLeaks, blamed Assange-led association for the revelations.

“It is unfortunate that several news organizations have made the decision to publish numerous documents obtained illegally by WikiLeaks concerning the Guantanamo detention facility,” said Morrell.

According to the world’s most renowned analyst, Noam Chomsky, the basic facts have not escaped scholarship.

“Forty years ago,” the scholar points out from his residence, “the distinguished political scientist and government adviser Samuel Huntington, Professor of the Science of Government at Harvard, wrote that ‘The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.’”

For Chomsky, it is clear that Obama understood that principle well. “Perhaps he learned it in his days as a student at Harvard.” regrets the American professor of Linguistic.

The U.S. national security Julian Assange is accused of have threatened, “undermining” its so-called democratic processes, is the very system WikiLeaks founder himself, in a bitter irony, has proven to be a total lie.

Media against Journalism

The world media including the so-called alternative to a large extent, from which the public should expect the strongest voice of support for Julian Assange, has amazingly forgotten in its reports and editorials the cruel truths brought courageously and brilliantly by WikiLeaks and has been keeping a cowardly, conniving silence before of the threats and psychological tortures that the Australian journalist has been suffering, for practicing investigative journalism in its highest degree.

“The American media,” remembers Chomsky, “like those in other countries was happy to use materials provided by WikiLeaks, but turned their backs on Assange and joined – often led – the attacks designed to discredit him.”

According to the Assange Defense movement’s leader, the British media, on balance, has been even more cowardly and sometimes descended to mere vulgarity. “That includes media tolerance of the torture of Assange over the years, which I need not review. His brutal persecution is an international scandal.”

“No less shameful is the fact that many of those who eagerly use his revelations are not rising to defend him,” Chomsky outrages, noting that the basic integrity of a free and independent press is under attack in this disgraceful performance.

The King Is Naked

Interestingly, the mainstream international media has not only turned its back on Assange but has also perpetuated its old, well-known line that goes against WikiLeaks’s very publications, in favor of the establishment in several cases.

In the case of the so-called alternative media, very selective in reverberating WikiLeaks while from the beginning it rejoiced in the endless revelations about the too very rogue American Empire, and the global right-wing politics, it never considered the “pranks” of its pet politicians, the so-boasted progressives in several countries – including Brazil under the Workers’ Party government, considered the supreme of the Latin American left – behind the scenes regarding its policies, both domestic and foreign affairs (list at the end of the report).

Assange stripped the backstage of global politics, without any political-party distinction. The King, suddenly, was exposed naked in the most diverse corners of the planet. The media, in general, has just revealed its true face – to those who still had some doubt about its (bad) character -, opting to completely undress with local power owners and, parading naked, shamelessly through the most cynical catwalk of shame, embrace his old kings instead of, in the name of the truth of the facts and elementary journalistic principles, crowning the good practice of Assange’s independent and combative journalism that turned the world upside down, coming to revolutionize our generation.

All of this, while the media, in general, makes the confidential, secret, and top-secret telegrams revealed by WikiLeaks, simply non-existent.

“At best, public debate over the real issues will be derailed; at worst, public opinion will be manipulated in favor of the establishment,” wrote Chomsky in The Independent in September of 2020.

World media has been surely cooperating for the worst scenario considered by Noam Chomsky in this interview.

Inverted Roles 

Detention for U.S. criminals due to their war crimes, crimes against humanity, and conspiracies to overthrow legitimate governments across the globe. U.S.’s inverting roles more than ever, impossible to be denied since Assange took action.

“The first duty of the press,” Robert Lowe wrote in the British daily The Times in 1852 (quoted by Cockburn), “is to obtain the earliest and most correct intelligence of the events of the time and instantly, by disclosing them, to make them the common property of the nation.”

About the imperialist and global politics including so-called progressive, demagogic one especially in Latin America, nothing could be more current than Lowe’s observations almost two centuries ago – and the whole world is aware of it thanks to WikiLeaks’ Julian -, who completed his idea the following way:

“The statesman collects his information secretly and by secret means; he keeps back even the current intelligence of the day with ludicrous precautions.”

Free Press Means Free Assange

“Julian Assange shouldn’t be the subject of a grand jury hearing, he should be given a medal. He’s contributing to democracy,” Chomsky is used to saying.

Asked by this report about how he views Assange’s case as politically motivated by the Washington regime, Chomsky, more than a brilliant analyst – a human being of rare inner beauty, indivisibly humanitarian in the deepest sense of the term in a world full of opportunists -, points out that the only national security issue that arises is the protection of state power from exposure to the citizenry.

“The persecution of Assange for this ‘security violation’ is politically motivated, virtually by definition,” says the world’s most respected expert.

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson immediately reacted to Judge Beraitser’s comments before the testimony began on January, the 4th, asking the defense how the outcome of the U.S. presidential election would affect the Assange case, and indicating that she had hoped to issue a ruling before the election day:

“Judge Baraitser has acknowledged what has been clear since even before the first indictment against Julian Assange was unsealed: this is a politically motivated prosecution.”

“If wars can be started by lies, peace can be started by truth,” Assange is used to saying, nominated on January, the 4th, for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.

Julian Assange must be freed and has to publish again just to continue to shed the light of the truth on U.S. fake democracy, and its war crimes. And what really happens behind the scenes in world politics.

Journalism is not a crime. Free Assange, free press for truth and democracy.

Highlighted Facts Exposed by WikiLeaks

U.S. war crimes. Collateral Murder: Classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad — including two Reuters news staff;

Baghdad War Diary (Iraq War Logs): The reports detail 109,032 deaths in Iraq, comprised of 66,081 ‘civilians’; 23,984 ‘enemy’ (those labeled as insurgents); 15,196 ‘host nation’ (Iraqi government forces) and 3,771 ‘friendly’ (coalition forces). The majority of the deaths (66,000, over 60%) are civilian deaths. That is 31 civilians dying every day during the six-year period (January of 2004-December of 2010);

Afghan War Diary: Reports written by soldiers and intelligence officers,  mainly describing lethal military actions involving the United States military; also include intelligence information, reports of meetings with political figures, and related details.

U.S. military tortures at Guantanamo Bay.

U.S. espionage. Vault 7: CIA hacking tools revealed. 8,761 documents and files from an isolated, high-security network situated inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley. “Year Zero” introduces the scope and direction of the CIA’s global covert hacking program, its malware arsenal, and dozens of “zero-day” weaponized exploits against a wide range of U.S. and European company products include Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android, and Microsoft’s Windows and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones.

U.S.’s secret invasion of Syria in the years previous to the so-called “Syrian Spring.” The Washington regime funded President Bashar al-Assad’s political opponents, part of the local media and cultural activities: From 2005 to 2010, US$ 12 billion.

U.S. secretly backed rebel leaders behind the 2011 uprising in Egypt.

U.S. meddling in Haiti affairs. Washington secretly worked against raising Haiti’s minimal wage to five dollars in 2008/2009, due to U.S. interest in Haitian free zones for textiles; cables mysteriously removed.

U.S. interference in Brazil’s politics. Judge Sergio Moro, his colleagues/Public Ministry’s subordinated officials who persecuted and jailed former President Lula, and other members of the corrupted Brazilian Justice system, trained by the Washington regime, on the U.S. territory;

Then-Vice President Michel Temer, who succeeded Workers’ Party President Dilma Rousseff in 2016, was a C.I.A. informant on the eve of the coup that overthrew President Rousseff;

Allied to Brazilian opposition, U.S. Embassy in Brasilia sought information about Brazil’s Workers’ Party’s government members, and Washington alliance with Workers’ Party’s opposition, revealing, too, how especially Brazilian Social-Democratic Party (PSDB) would favor Washington’s interests once in power: herehereherehereherehereherehereherehere and here;

U.S. Embassy in Brasilia surveilled Brazil’s largest social movement for agrarian reform, Landless Workers Movement, here and here.

U.S. interference in Brazil’s mainstream media. “Large media outlets such as O Estado de S. Paulo, the O Globo media outlets, and Veja magazine, were they to focus on this issue, could raise the public concern, particularly among the elite. [This diplomatic] Mission has had significant success in placing interviews and op-eds by senior USG officials and respected academics. Visits by experts or senior USG officials would be excellent opportunities to address this question with the press.”

Mass spying by governments. The revelation of a world system of mass espionage carried out by governments of different countries on cell phones, computers, and also on the social media profiles of their citizens. The practice, says the document, is adopted by at least 25 nations through 160 intelligence companies.

So-called progressive Latin American governments begging U.S. blessings. Workers’ Party’s Brazil, especially then-President Lula’s “strongman”, then-Minister Jose Dirceu, secretly accounting before U.S. “diplomats” (contradicting, in some cases, what he and then-President Lula used to public say): secret cables herehere, and here. The following secret cable is a particular case, as Jose Dirceu supports the creation of FTTA, something the Workers’ Party publicly, strongly opposed: “Dirceu took the opportunity to state his desire that the FTAA talks move forward, repeatedly declaring that Brazil should export at least four times more to the U.S. than it currently does. (…)  Dirceu said that next month both he and Palocci would seek to talk to President Lula about this.”

Then-President Lula’s secretly praising, and protecting the Brazilian bloodshed military dictatorship (1964-1985) from being investigated for their crimes against civilians and political opponents. “Praise recalls comments by then-candidate Lula da Silva in 2002, who credited the same military government that jailed him with pursuing strategic planning that benefited the country” (here); “President Lula, mindful of the need for smooth relations with the military and the importance of moving forward with his policy agenda, is in no hurry to open the dictatorship’s files” (here); “President Lula gave his support to Jobim’s view [then-Defense Minister, a former military advocating for not investigating the military dictatorship] and declared that the matter [investigation of the military dicatroship] was “closed” (here).

Argentina’s then-President Cristina Kirchner worked with the United States to moderate Evo Morales, here.

So-called progressive Latin American governments stuck in corruption. Lula got bribes to purchase the French fighter aircraft Rafale, and suspected of having got bribes to purchase French submarines, too. In a secret cable, U.S. Ambassador in Brazil commented on it: “Brazil is an astonishingly corrupt country. (…) We can’t do any real business because of it in a corrupt place like Brazil. (…) It is our assessment that this is purely about bribes and the French using strategies they have applied in the past here in Brazil. (…) I mean is it a coincidence that they are buying so much French stuff? The French know how to bribe”;

“Widespread corruption in Cuba.” Here and here;

Current Pope Francis (then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio) secretly supported the Kirchners’ opponents in Argentina and was a close partner of the too bloodshed military dictatorship (1976-1983), several Wikileaks cables mysteriously removed.

Spy Files Russia

This release includes 209 documents (34 base documents in different versions) dated between 2007 and 2015. Russia’s laws – especially the new Yarovaya Law – make literally no distinction between Lawful Interception and mass surveillance by state intelligence authorities (SIAs) without court orders. Russian communication providers are required by Russian law to install the so-called SORM ( Система Оперативно-Розыскных Мероприятий) components for surveillance provided by the FSB at their own expense. The SORM infrastructure is developed and deployed in Russia with close cooperation between the FSB, the Interior Ministry of Russia and Russian surveillance contractors.

08.02.2021 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Democracy Now!

“A Moral Catastrophe”: Africa CDC Head Says Lack of Vaccines for the Continent Will Imperil World
(Image by Democracy Now)

Countries across the African continent are facing a second COVID-19 outbreak, linked to a variant first found in South Africa that has been detected in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Comoros and Zambia and more than 20 non-African countries so far. There is concern new variants, which scientists believe are more infectious, could spread the virus further before widespread vaccination begins. More than 40 African countries have been hit by this second wave, and just six have received relatively small shipments of vaccines. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the world faces “a moral catastrophe” without vaccine equity. “It has to be very clear that no part of the world will be safe until all parts of the world are safe,” he says. “We either come out of this together or we go down together. There’s no middle ground in this.”

https://www.democracynow.org/embed/story/2021/2/5/john_nkengasong_africa_covid_vaccines

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We begin today in Africa, where countries across the continent are facing a second COVID-19 outbreak, linked to a variant first found in South Africa that many scientists believe is more infectious and has also been detected in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia, as well as more than 20 non-African countries so far. More than 40 African nations have been hit by this second wave, but just six have received relatively small quantities of vaccine. There’s concern new variants could spread the virus further before widespread vaccination begins.

A virtual African Union summit this weekend will focus in part on the continent’s response to COVID-19. The outgoing chair, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s own country accounts for about 40% of coronavirus cases and deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. A Johannesburg nurse recently described the dire situation.

LERATO MTHUNZI: Our mortuaries, as I speak to you, are full to capacity. In fact, it’s in the longest, where we’ve seen, you know, body bags on the floor.

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden sent a video message to the African Union summit vowing more cooperation in the fight against the virus.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: To reach this future, we also must confront the serious challenges we face. That includes investing more in global health, defeating COVID-19 and working to prevent, detect and respond to future health crises, and partnering with the African CDC and other institutions to advance health security.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to speak with Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He has said the world faces a “moral catastrophe” if COVID-19 vaccinations are delayed in Africa while wealthier nations vaccinate their entire populations.

Doctor, welcome back to Democracy Now!, and congratulations as you mark the fourth anniversary today of the founding of the African Centers for Disease Control.

JOHN NKENGASONG: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be back with you again.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you start off explaining why you’ve described what could happen in Africa as a “moral catastrophe”?

JOHN NKENGASONG: I think the situation in Africa is urgent and is critical with respect to the COVID-19. If you look at this second wave of the pandemic, it has really become fiercer than what we observed in the first wave, with a mortality rate now higher than the global case fatality rate. And the rate of deaths, if you see the rate of deaths occurring over the last one month, is significantly more than what we observed during the first wave. So, unless we have a timely access to vaccines, I’m afraid the situation will be extremely difficult to manage going forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa urged wealthy nations to stop hoarding surplus doses of COVID-19 vaccines. This is what he said.

PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA: The rich countries of the world went out and acquired large doses of vaccines from the developers and manufacturers of these vaccines. And some countries have even gone beyond and acquired up to four times what their population needs. And that was aimed at hoarding these vaccines. And now this is being done to the exclusion of countries, of other countries in the world, that most need this. … We are all not safe if some countries are vaccinating their people and other countries are not vaccinating. We all must act together in combating coronavirus, because it affects all of us equally.

AMY GOODMAN: In a webinar last month about Africa’s COVID-19 vaccine financing and deployment strategy, South African President Ramaphosa, who’s also the outgoing chair of the African Union, that’s holding its meeting this weekend, said, quote, “The painful irony is that some of the clinical trials for these vaccines were carried out in Africa.” So, Dr. Nkengasong, talk about that. Talk about Africa being used as the experimentation site, but then, when it comes to reaping the benefits of the vaccines that prove to be safe, you’re last in line.

JOHN NKENGASONG: I think it’s unfortunate. When I used the word that we may be heading towards a “moral catastrophe,” I meant it. In 1996, when drugs to treat HIV were available, it took 10 years before those drugs were finally accessible on the continent. And between 1996 and 2006, 12 million Africans died — and, I underline, unnecessarily. I think we should really make sure that the history, that sad page of our history, does not occur again, especially with this pandemic. So I think we are very, very worried that we may be heading towards that direction if something is not done and done urgently.

I think, in 1963, Martin Luther King said, mentioned or characterized the challenges that they had at that time as the “fierce urgency of now.” I don’t know of any situation that we are living with today that doesn’t meet that scenario other than rapid and timely access to COVID vaccines broadly, not just in the developed world, but in developing countries.

And President Ramaphosa and Chairperson Moussa Faki of the African Union Commission are leading a charge to make sure that Africa is really not lagging too much behind. We have secured 270 million doses of vaccines and an additional 400 million doses of vaccines from the Serum Institute in India. So we are making some progress in that area, but it will not be easily distributed. We have to mount an extraordinary, historic effort to vaccinate up to about 30% of our population before December in order to begin to slow down the spread of the pandemic in Africa; otherwise, the consequences will be very, very devastating on our continent.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the deals that must be made with pharmaceutical companies and other countries. I mean, you have places like Canada and the United States that ultimately are ordering hundreds of millions of vaccines. And actually, I think in Canada it’s something like — will have enough to vaccinate their population four or five times, before you see countries getting vaccines in Africa. So, what kind of responsibility does a country like the United States have? Here in this country, people are saying, “No, we can’t get vaccines. Why should we care about what’s happening in Africa?” Explain why Africa is so critical.

JOHN NKENGASONG: Africa is so critical because we are part of the globe, and Africa is a continent of 1.3 billion people. And again, we live — we are seeing and witnessing a virus that is spreading very quick. The globe, as a whole, has recorded more than 100 million cases of COVID-19 in just one year. So, that is extraordinary. The last time we saw such a fast-moving and impactful virus was in 1918 during the Spanish flu pandemic. So, it is a threat globally.

I think it has to be very clear that no part of the world will be safe until all parts of the world are safe. I think we are in this together. We either come out of this together or we go down together. There is no middle ground in this. So, that is why the United States, Canada and other developing worlds must work collaboratively and in a coordinated fashion with the African continent, so that we begin to get timely access to the vaccines.

The countries that have secured additional or excess doses of vaccines can do a very simple thing and the right thing, so that history will remember them right: to reallocate those vaccines into either the COVAX Facility or the mechanism that the African Union has put in place so that we can begin to rapidly vaccinate our people. I use the word “rapidly” purposefully. If we have vaccines later in the year, they become meaningless for us. We have to have vaccines now, so that we start vaccinating our people on a large scale and then stop the spread of the new variants that you just indicated earlier.

AMY GOODMAN: Doctor, could you explain the South African variant? Of course, we’re hearing about it in the United States because people are threatened in the United States. How fast it’s moving? What it means?

JOHN NKENGASONG: What it means is that we are dealing with a virus that replicates with a lot of errors. There are error in the viruses. And the occurrence of mutants in a virus like the COVID-19 virus is not strange. I think it’s normal, and it should be expected. So, what we know is that this virus is currently dominating the pandemic in South Africa. And you have seen how quickly they are spread just over the last couple of months. And South Africa now accounts for about 40% of all infections on the continent. So that also means that the health systems in South Africa will be overwhelmed, are currently heavily overwhelmed by this rapidly spreading virus.

What we don’t know is if people infected with this virus are dying more. I think maybe, and just maybe, an increased case-fatality ratio, which is now around 2.6%, both the global average, which is 2.2%, might be attributed to this variant. We just don’t know. So, Africa CDC has established a network of what we call the Pathogen Genomic Institute around the continent to try to generate over 50 million genomes in the next six months to better understand the spread of this variant across the continent. And it’s work that we are very committed to and building the right partnerships to deep dive into this spreading variant.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Nkengasong, I want to read from The Guardian newspaper. They say that “Tanzania has rejected vaccinations altogether, raising fears that the east African country could act as a reservoir for the disease and threaten progress elsewhere. President John Magufuli said last week that Tanzania had ‘lived for over one year without the virus because our God is able and Satan will always fail’ and insisted the pandemic can be fought with herbal remedies. The World Health Organization’s Africa chief last week urged Tanzania to share its data on infections.” Can you talk about the significance of what Tanzania is doing?

JOHN NKENGASONG: What Tanzania is doing is hugely significant. No country is an island. And Tanzania is a strong member of the African Union. And again, the underpinning of our union is the need to cooperate, to collaborate and to share with each other, to build a united Africa. Those were the founding principles that established the African Union. And a country like Tanzania, with leaders like Julius Nyerere who were the founding fathers of that country, believed strongly in the unity of our continent. And there is no other time I can recall that is more challenging than it is now because of COVID-19.

I think we have to express that unity of purpose and come together as one and fight these battles. COVID-19 will not be eliminated in Africa if we still have pockets of COVID infections in Tanzania, a country of about 60 million inhabitants. It’s just not going to happen. So we call on Tanzania to cooperate with the World Health Organization, with the Africa CDC, with the African Union Commission, so that we can work hand in hand to eliminate this virus from our continent. We must do that to survive; otherwise, we will live with COVID forever on the continent, in addition to HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, that are already a serious threat to our development.

AMY GOODMAN: The first shipment of vaccines arrived in South Africa earlier this week. How many vaccines have been acquired by the entire continent? The World Health Organization said on Thursday its COVAX initiative aims to start shipping nearly 90 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Africa in February. And can you explain what COVAX is?

JOHN NKENGASONG: So, COVAX is a multilateral mechanism that was set up in Geneva and is co-managed by the World Health Organization, the Global Alliance of Vaccines and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, in abbreviation, CEPI. So, I think it is our response to what I will call an anti — a response to protectionism. I think it says that we can pool our resources and then acquire vaccines and distribute it to those countries that are in need of. I think it’s a very much welcome initiative, and we continue to be very supportive of that initiative.

At the same time, the African continent, the leadership of the African continent, as I indicated earlier, under the leadership of Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat and the president of South Africa, in his capacity as the rotating chair of the African Union, President Ramaphosa, have pulled together what we call the African Vaccine Alliance to acquire more vaccines. And together, we’ve acquired a total of about 700 million doses of vaccines. But let me be very clear that all of those vaccine doses will not arrive on the continent at the same time. Those vaccines will be sequenced over a period of the next six months and will also spread over to 2022.

So, I think those vaccines, both from the COVAX Facility and the African Union, [inaudible] enable us to achieve our 60% immunization target, which we set up as part of our continental strategy to achieve population or herd immunity. Without that, we will not be able to eliminate COVID from the continent. So, we are very encouraged with those numbers, but we have to get prepared. And we are working with member states to establish their vaccination plans, establish their vaccine centers so that once the vaccines arrive, we can easily and rapidly roll out vaccination.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of President Biden rejoining the World Health Organization? And finally, what is your message for the Biden administration when it comes to vaccine access in Africa?

JOHN NKENGASONG: I was very encouraged to listen to President Biden’s message a few minutes ago when you played that. I think the United States leadership has always been determinant and have always played — been a game changer once they’ve deployed themselves appropriately, be it in the area of malaria elimination, measles elimination or HIV/AIDS. The PEPFAR program is a good example of that. So, we remain very hopeful and very encouraged by the message and the wordings that we are hearing from the White House with respect to global health security, with respect to the fight against COVID-19 on the continent. Africa CDC stands ready to work with the U.S. government and the U.S. CDC, the USAID and other parties that have been working with us all through this. So we are extremely encouraged with what we are hearing from the White House.

AMY GOODMAN: And what words of advice do you have for the United States? I mean, the United States is the wealthiest country in the world, and yet it has the worst infection rate and the worst death rate — what, less than 5% of the world’s population, but more than a fifth of the world’s deaths and infections when it comes to COVID-19.

JOHN NKENGASONG: I believe it’s a new day for the United States with the new administration. And we are very encouraged that their response to the current pandemic in the United States is truly now driven by science, by evidence and by data. So we are very encouraged with that. I think that is the centrality to fighting any pandemic, is to rely on good science and to rely on good data and to make sure that there’s trust between the community and public health experts. I think we at Africa CDC are extremely privileged that we have been working hand in glove with the political leadership of our continent, and we’ve not run into any challenge and issues with that. So, when [inaudible] do not align, it becomes very challenging. So we are very encouraged that the United States is moving in that direction.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. John Nkengasong, thank you so much for being with us, director for Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaking to us from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

 The original article can be found on our partner’s website here

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must act and dare the appropiateness and not whatever comes to our mind not floating in the likelihood but grasp the reality as brave as we can be freedom lies in action not in the absence of mind obedience knows the essence of good and satisfies it, freedom dares to act and returns God the ultimate judgment of what is right and what is wrong, Obedience performs blindly but Freedom is wide awake Freedom wants to know why, Obedience has its hands tied, Freedom is inventive obedient man respects God’s commands and by virtu of his Freedom, he creats new commands. Both Obedience and Freedom come true in responsability (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

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