The only topic at the National Model United Nations Conference in Washington D.C. my committee spoke on was the Crisis in Zimbabwe. Much to the chagrin of Cuba, whom I was representing, the topic “the use of torture in the War on Terror” was not even touched. The Zimbabwe debate, however, was fertile and only Cuba and a few other nations (Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea) spoke out against the imperialism of other countries, including many so-called progressive African nations, who wished to intervene politically in Zimbabwe. Venezuela and Bolivia were not present. Altogether about 500 students were present at the SAIS (School of Advanced International Studies) conference on Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue.
This situation in Zimbabwe was created in colonial times when blacks were forced off their ancestral lands. “The land question” was a major cause of the guerrilla war which led to Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.
As much as I disagree with Mugabe’s reforms, which disproportionately skewed production, transformed the employment structure, and set the country into spiraling inflation, I spoke out in favor of Operation Clean-Up and the land reform policies. Cuba wishes to see the establishment of a “Unified Socialist Zimbabwe”, I maintained, and thus the land reform policy — much like the first and second Agrarian Reforms in Cuba in the 1960s — is something that Havana would like to see emulated in other Pan-African nations and the Diasporan community.
As Cuba, I spoke out against what I see are the sins of colonialism. And of neocolonialism, the highest stage of imperialism. Africa herself has seen centuries of land abuse. The Land Apportionment Act of 1930 in Zimbabwe barred African land ownership outside the reserves, except in a special freehold purchase area. Africans not needed for labor on white farms were forced to move to the reserves, which became increasingly congested. Independence saw the transfer of power from whites to blacks, but not land. Thousands of settlers opted for Zimbabwean nationality after independence. Now, since 1997, Mugabe is bringing the land back to the African peoples in a form of intense reparations that have shocked the country. He announced a hit list of 1,500 farms set for compulsory acquisition, and said Britain should foot the bill for compensating the white farmers because Rhodesian colonists had stolen the land from blacks in the first place.
The Arab-Persian bloc drafted a resolution to end the sanctions from the World Bank and the IMF that would open Zimbabwe up for loans. This was ridiculous, I said, since Mugabe would never accept the conditions upon which the loans are offered, and the conditions themselves have destroyed numerous other countries. I mentioned the Venezuelan-based Bank of the South as a viable option. Other nations proposed reinforcing the sanctions that forbid Mugabe from diplomatic immunity in many nations and other visa bans. This was also ridiculous, I said, since it violates hundreds of years of international custom and ICJ statutes. Restricting a foreign head of state during a crisis is also not helpful — shuttle diplomacy during the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict has been effective. That was the genius of Kissinger whether he was a genius or not.
Another group of nations said we ought to reinforce the arms embargo which prevents any weapons from entering Zimbabwe. Cuba said, however, that this would only prevent a Pan-African leader from protecting the work of socialism and fighting the imperialists. Mugabe, after all, has helped many other nations fight their independence wars. Most notably in the Congo. And for other nations to deny him weapons would only confirm their own neo-colonialism and imperialist policies towards Africa.
In the end it was an enjoyable conference, although somewhat less satisfying than the Berkeley Model UN conference, which is much less restricted, encouraging free exploration and academic freedom which is conducive to creative expression. The Washington Conference restricted many of the things I had been used to at Berkeley, such as an un-moderated caucus, which is very helpful in debate. However, I’m not that if UPS put on a conference it could have been any better.