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Saturday, October 18, 2003

Uzbekistan -- Our Own Little Cuba, Minus the Mambo and the Beaches

uzbekmap.jpgkarimov-bush-ap.jpg Karimov and Bush, 2002

The UK's courageous, outspoken Ambassador to the Central Asian "Republic" of Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has raised quite a ruckus over his complaints about that country's repressive dictatorship. More to the point, he appears to have offended the USG by inconveniently reminding a few too many people in public that President Islam Karimov, (see for a glowing official bio), the former Soviet Politburo member who has ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist and innumerable offshore banking relationships since 1989, has recently received more than $160 million a year of US economic and military aid, apparently without many scruples attached. All told, this has made the US by far the largest bilateral aid donor to Uzbekistan, althought the ADB, the EBRD, and the World Bank have also been very generous. Wherever that aid is going, evidently not much of it is reaching Uzbekistan's 7-10,000 political prisoners. (For more about their plight, including torture and murder, see Many of them are probably in much greater need of health care than Ambassador Murray, when and if they emerge from Karimov's jails, but he has now been recalled to the UK on "sick leave." The beleagured Blair Government has been compelled to reject nasty insinuations that the recall might have anything to do with Washington's pique. (See the following report:,6903,1066291,00.html)

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Colin Powell has twice certified that Uzbekistan is making "substantial and continuing progress" toward meeting its human rights obligations -- thereby permitting the aid dollars to continue flowing. Compare that with the Bush Administration's October 2003 decision to tighten the screws again on Castro's evil dictatorship in Cuba. (See english&y=2003&m=October&x=20031010181621relhcie0.3876459&t=usinfo/wf-latest.html)

This neatly puts in play the question of precisely which traditional American values, if any, are influencing our foreign policy priorities these days.

Obviously it would have helped if Cuba had anything like Uzbekistan's strategic location, or at least its natural gas reserves, which are at least 10 times the size of Cuba's. Clearly our tilt toward Karimov has nothing to do with comparative rates of political and religious repression, net rates of out-migration (Uzbekis are fleeing their country at a rate almost twice that of Cuba's), the degree to which the regime's top leader has "paid his dues" in Soviet service, or even the degree of state ownership in the economy. Perhaps it made a slight difference that there are some 500,000 Cuban emigres living in south Florida -- probably a few more than their Uzbeki refugee neighbors. For the interested reader, the following table provides a convenient side-by-side summary of these two submerging markets, and invites you to explain these contrasting US attitudes -- and also see which place you'd prefer to visit! (As a diver, I have to admit a slight bias -- Uzbekistan's Aral Sea, once the world's fourth largest lake, and one of the planet's worst environmental disasters, is well on its way to becoming the world's eighth largest lake, basically an undivable, dessicated flatland. But at least the Soviet Union dominated cotton exports! ( See Download file.)

(c) James S. Henry, October 2003. All rights reserved. No reproduction or other use without express consent from the author.

October 18, 2003 at 10:17 PM | Permalink


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Perhaps the distinction between USG attitutes toward Cuba and Uzbekistan has to do with the close relations that President Karimov has reportedly developed with leading Afghan heroin traders, like Northern Alliance warlord Rachid Dostum, depty foreign minister in the US-installed Kabul regime. Alfred McCoy, where is thy sting!

Posted by: Phil at Oct 19, 2003 12:00:45 PM