But you do not have to shoot to be morally responsible.
March 24, 2015 1:56 PM   Subscribe

"This week I may be jailed for writing a book on human rights abuses." by Rafael Marques de Morais

Maka Angola

Blood diamonds author Rafael Marques de Morais facing defamation trial after returning to Angola

Angola's de Morais charged over diamond book

2011: My stand against Angola's blood-diamond generals: The main body of evidence consists of cases I have exposed since 2004 in a number of reports on human rights abuses. Last September, I published a book, Diamantes de Sangue: Corrupção e Tortura em Angola (Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola), exposing the web of corruption and the atrocities committed over the past two years. Dealing with two municipalities, Cuango and Xá-Muteba, the book reveals over 100 killings and the torture of more than 500 individuals.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (15 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
And let that be a lesson...
posted by Etrigan at 2:13 PM on March 24, 2015

That's a real hero.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:01 PM on March 24, 2015

It is a difficult task, being the conscience of a nation, who by its workings, has abolished its own soul. He draws parallels to many industries who operate without principles. I wish his family the best, and safe passage through time.
posted by Oyéah at 3:03 PM on March 24, 2015

I feel like boycotting these industries until they are cleaned up is in order. I don't want him to have given up his freedom and taken on such risks for no reasons-- the global community can respond to this both through political action and through direct responses in individual behavior. He doesn't have to be the only one working on this, we all can make his efforts count as much as we can.
posted by xarnop at 3:26 PM on March 24, 2015

Marques is quoted a couple of times in Magnificent and Beggar Land, an extraordinary new look at how Angola's leader has played an amazing hand since decolonization, through civil war and reconstruction, into modern "Leninist capitalism" while maintaining a concentration of wealth and power that ranks up there with Russia's oligarchs. He's very brave.
posted by chavenet at 4:58 PM on March 24, 2015

Boycott what? Angolan oil? Angolan diamonds? For the most part, neither of those are things that consumers have any real say on, and they're kind of illustrative of the general impotence of consumer politics as well as the reason why viewing social problems through an individual consumer lens would be in the interest of e.g. Angolan generals.

The way this stops, generally, is either through targeted sanctions enforced by external state power (and even then the record isn't great) or the growth of powerful, independent anti-corruption institutions within the state, which is the best long-term solution but pretty damn frustrating in the interim.

If you've got to do something on your own, rather than organizing with some Angolan organization, buy the guy's book and support other independent Angolan journalism so that the economic threat from plutocrats is diminished.
posted by klangklangston at 4:58 PM on March 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

I support any efforts that will help. I agree, focusing only on the consumer end is a problem to the exclusion of other efforts-- I also think, why not do what you can on that level all the same? What will it hurt and if it disempowers the markets even a bit, isn't that still good? If it's true a quarter of all american diamonds are blood diamonds, do you really mean to absolve consumers of ALL responsibility for feeding this suffering?

I mean, while I think war was needed to stop slavery, shouldn't slave owners as individuals ALSO have chosen to stop participating? Shouldn't people who could find a way to survive without purchase slave produced goods ALSO have chosen to stop supporting the suffering? I think it's a feel good narrative to completely excuse consumers but the reality consumers do have some power and even though other methods are absolutely needed- that doesn't mean we should be excusing people for knowingly support stuff like this, especially in cases where there is a reasonable possibility they would be just find without consuming such products.

In terms of who should be held legally accountable, I agree, those actively doing this should face the brunt of the consequences. I just don't get why consumer choice would ever be totally disregarded. Diamonds, especially for jewelry, are not in any way shape or form a necessity. Human suffering does not justify their purchase when there is so much human suffering involved in obtaining such a large portion of them.
posted by xarnop at 6:37 PM on March 24, 2015

Umm, consumers can simply not buy any diamonds, klangklangston, well maybe buy lab made ones. All oil is ethically problematic too, but that's a larger issue.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:00 PM on March 24, 2015

Umm, the number of diamonds that any one given person buys is pretty low, and the number of diamonds on the commercial market that come from Angolan sources is a fraction of that broader number. Hell, there are even so many diamonds mined that a cartel has to buy more than natural demand just to keep the price inflated. So most people already don't buy any diamonds and decreasing the overall demand wouldn't necessarily affect Angola very much. The economics are different than e.g. ivory boycotts.

While people can and should support multiple strategies to fight this sort of corruption, there have been consumer boycotts of all diamonds due specifically to Angolan blood diamonds for nearly a decade and the impact has been minimal (not least because Angola also has oil, and plenty of states give sweet fuck all about Western sanctions).

Which brings us to the bigger problem that there's very little the international community can do about it either. Sanctions have at best a mixed to bad record for forcing domestic policy changes, especially because the U.N. remit explicitly recognizes state sovereignty. We don't have effective international institutions for this, and Angola pretty obviously doesn't either.

So, if consumer boycotts are unlikely to have a significant impact on the Angolan government, what's the harm? There's a harm in so far as the magical thinking of liberal consumer capitalism encourages individual over collective action, and encourages the substitution of symbolic superstition for effective strategies in general.
posted by klangklangston at 10:09 PM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, most natural diamonds aren't consumer fripperies, they're industrial cutting/grinding components. They're extremely profitable for the mining companies and almost impossible (for end users) to trace. I probably have 100 karats of this fancy sand in my workshop on various blades, bits and sharpening implements. How am I supposed to boycott unknown producers of essential tools?
posted by Dreidl at 12:34 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

His trial has been postponed because they added 15 new accusations for defamation for which he hadn't been notified.

You can download his book for free, the Portuguese publisher has put it online as a solidarity gesture. The publisher herself was accused of libel but the Portuguese DA didn't play ball with the Angolan generals - which was a relief as cash strapped Portugal has been pandering so much to the Angolan "elites" that it's embarrassing.

You can follow Maka Angola (the pro democracy initiative started by Rafael) linked above on Facebook and on Twitter - and get updates in english on what's going on with the trial and spread the word.

Thanks for the post, Rafael is a bit of a hero.
posted by Marauding Ennui at 1:21 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Around 85% of industrial diamonds are lab made, not exactly a high priority boycott target, Dreidi. Otoh decorative diamonds are not usually synthetic unless explicitly marketed as synthetic, so if you must buy a bauble then save some money and guy synthetic.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:10 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can't help but wonder if boycotts are an ineffective tool specifically because there is such poor follow through and they fail to become wide spread. And if part of why there is such poor follow through and they fail to become widespread is because many people are vocally spreading the idea that boycotts and taking personal responsibility for consumer participation impact on the world and human lives don't work, so don't even bother.
posted by xarnop at 5:30 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Or buy Canadian diamonds. They're etched with a polar bear.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:36 AM on March 25, 2015

"I can't help but wonder if boycotts are an ineffective tool specifically because there is such poor follow through and they fail to become wide spread. And if part of why there is such poor follow through and they fail to become widespread is because many people are vocally spreading the idea that boycotts and taking personal responsibility for consumer participation impact on the world and human lives don't work, so don't even bother."

That's called begging the question, and is the type of circular logic you get when you assume that boycotts are broadly effective absent some grumps spreading the notion that they're not. But the truth of the matter is that boycotts tend to only be effective when they're targeted extremely specifically and have a lot of market proximity to the consumer group that's leading it. Things like relative prevalence of the product or business in a market and cohesiveness of the boycotting polity, as well as relative margins for the business, matter a lot.

For two contrasting examples: The Montgomery Bus Boycott was largely effective because the black community bus ridership was sufficient to exert economic pressure, was cohesive enough to maintain that pressure, and had a clear, immediate goal. The Boycott Movement, which became the Anti-Apartheid Movement, was largely ineffective for some 30 years aside from a few symbolic victories (cancelled cricket tours, etc.), and especially ineffective with regard to consumer boycotts. Almost all boycott victories against Apartheid came from state or institutional actors, and Apartheid only really fell after the Western anti-Communist priority had waned.

So, again, targeted local boycotts organized locally can be effective. Wide-scale consumer boycotts don't fail because "many people are vocally spreading the idea that boycotts and taking personal responsibility for consumer participation impact on the world and human lives don't work, so don't even bother," but because they're ineffective in actually causing enough economic harm to justify the policy demands and that reinforces the general feeling of impotence far more than any cadre of Cassandras. Further, as I mentioned above, framing this through individual consumer choice magnifies the chances of that failure while reinforcing a neo-liberal approach to problem solving that inflates the superstition of consumer "empowerment" while decreasing the overall mass appetite for effective advocacy.
posted by klangklangston at 3:08 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

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