06.28.05

Mugabe's Reign of Terror in Zimbabwe

Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word for the purpose of a colloquy.

Mr. Chairman, 25 years ago this April, the breakaway British colony of Rhodesia emerged from years of guerilla conflict as the new nation of Zimbabwe. The United States and many other Western nations were hopeful that Zimbabwe's new President, Robert Mugabe, who came to prominence as a guerrilla leader in the 1970s, would moderate his Marxist views and build a better future for all Zimbabwe citizens. 
   
Zimbabwe's people also had high hopes. The country had considerable natural wealth and, despite years of bitter warfare, many in the business community opted to remain, providing crucial economic stability. Zimbabwe's people were determined not to share in the fate of so many of their neighbors, who had also emerged from colonialism amid fanfare and high expectations.

Now, after a quarter century of tyrannical and frequently bizarre misrule by Mr. Mugabe, Zimbabwe is shattered. Its inflation rate is the highest in the world, unemployment estimates range up to 80 percent, with seven in 10 Zimbabweans living below the poverty line. Zimbabwe has one of Africa's highest HIV/AIDS infection rates, with more than a quarter of the adult population infected.

While the Mugabe regime has frequently resorted to Draconian internal security laws and plain old thuggery to suppress and divide the Zimbabwe opposition, Harare's intimidation tactics have taken an especially nasty turn in the last 3 months since the country held parliamentary elections at the end of March.

Those elections, which were won by Mugabe's ruling party, were fraudulent and widened the schism between Zimbabwe's urban masses, who tend to support the opposition, and rural voters, who make up the bulk of the ruling party supporters.

To punish his opponents, Mr. Mugabe's government has waged a 6-week campaign, revealingly called ``Operation Drive Out Trash,'' against opposition strongholds in Zimbabwe's cities. Tens of thousands of bewildered families have been forced into the open of the cold winter after police torched and bulldozed their shanty town homes on the flimsiest of pretexts. Street markets were also targeted and left smoldering in ruins.

Last week, the government, in a nation facing severe food shortages, moved on to vegetable gardens planted by the poor in vacant lots around Harare. Authorities claimed the gardens threatened the environment.

International human rights groups say at least 300,000 people have lost their homes by conservative estimates. The United Nations puts the figure as high as 1.5 million.

Mr. Chairman, I know that many of our colleagues share my anger and my sorrow at a state of affairs that is beginning to look eerily like Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. I have no desire to cut U.S. aid that goes to help the people of Zimbabwe and their struggles against HIV/AIDS and one-party rule, but I feel that we cannot stand by and watch Zimbabwe become a failed State.

I am especially frustrated by the failure of the African Union and SADC, the Southern African Development Community, to confront the horrors going on in Zimbabwe. I hope that the AU will, at the weekend summit in Sirte, Libya, take a firm stand against the Mugabe regime's excesses, and I urge President Bush to make it clear at next week's G-8 meeting that South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, who has refused to confront Mr. Mugabe and we hope Mr. Mbeki will take a strong and unequivocal stand against the Zimbabwe regime.

Will the chairman work with me and the chairman of the full Committee on International Relations and other interested Members in developing policies that continue to assist the Zimbabwe people while putting additional pressure on the Mugabe regime?

Mr. KOLBE. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. SCHIFF. I yield to the gentleman from Arizona.

Mr. KOLBE. Mr. Chairman, I want to say that I share my colleague's abhorrence regarding the rule in Zimbabwe, and he has outlined it, I think, extraordinarily well. Through his mismanagement and outright oppression, he has driven Zimbabwe, once known as the bread basket of southern Africa, into the greatest source of instability in the region. I want to make it clear that no funding, no funding from this bill will be used to support Mr. Mugabe's government.

The bill does include $15 million to help the people of Zimbabwe. I feel strongly that this assistance is critical and must be sustained. Over $11 million of this is for HIV/AIDS and other health programs. Most of the rest is used to help strengthen citizen groups and other organizations, so one day the people may have an effective voice against Mr. Mugabe and his cronies.

Democratic change must be driven by the people. As we have seen in Georgia and Ukraine, our democracy programs can be effective in supporting that process. And, the people of Zimbabwe must not feel that the international community has given up on them.

While I feel strongly that our assistance to the Zimbabwean people must be sustained, I will be happy to work with the gentleman to find ways to increase pressure on President Mugabe.

Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for his leadership.

Mrs. LOWEY. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.

Mr. Chairman, I want to commend the gentleman from California for raising this issue. I too am very concerned about the repressive and totalitarian turns that Zimbabwe has taken in recent years under Mr. Mugabe.

The decision to evict thousands of poor people from their homes and bulldoze their property is one of the worst forms of brutality Mr. Mugabe has used against his own people, who are already suffering from food shortages and economic stagnation. He is truly relentless in his effort to quash any opposition he perceives.

As the chairman has said, there is no U.S. funding for Mr. Mugabe's regime contained in the bill. However, at a time when Zimbabweans are suffering so much, I am loathe to place conditions or limitations on any assistance that might help the beleaguered people of the country and ease their isolation from the rest of the international community. I am particularly concerned about any limitations on HIV/AIDS programs which comprise the bulk of our assistance to Zimbabwe.