The Regional African Satellite Communication Organization (RASCOM) was founded in 1992 as an intergovernmental organization open to private investment and has launched two communications satellites. Rascom-QAF 1 was launched in 2007 and Rascom-QAF 1R in 2010. Before NATO destroyed Libya, the Libyan government’s African Investment Portfolio owned 63% of RASCOM with the remainder owned by 45 African telecommunications companies (25%) and the French military and telecommunications multinational Thales Alenia Space (12%).
After its founding in 1992, RASCOM had difficulty raising money to build and launch an African owned satellite. Western dominated international financial institutions looked askance at the project because European businesses collected US$500 million a year thanks to the West’s corporate monopoly on telecommunications infrastructure. France in particular dominated francophone Africa’s telecommunications, just as it dominates the rest of that region’s economy. International satellite companies insisted RASCOM lay out a prepayment of US$200 million.
To overcome that financial barrier, Libya’s Jamahiriya contributed US$300 million to RASCOM’s first satellite. As Jean Paul Pougala noted in April 2011, “It was Libya’s Gaddafi who gave all of Africa its first real revolution in modern times: by ensuring universal coverage of the continent via telephone, television, radio-broadcast and the many other applications such as telemedicine and long-distance learning; for the first time in history, a low-cost connection became available across the continent, and even into rural areas thanks to a bridging WIMAX system.”
No one depending on Western media for current affairs information would know that. As Harold Pinter put it in his Nobel lecture, the crimes against humanity of the US government and its allies “never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.” Western corporate and alternative media have censored Libya’s great humanitarian achievements under Muammar al Gaddhafi just as, in general, they have censored faithful and honest coverage of events around the world, particularly in Latin America.
Even this year’s summit in Brussels of government leaders of the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states received zero coverage in North American and European news media. This scandalous censorship of world events by Western media is itself treated as if it never happens. Even as it happens, it is of zero interest. This makes reading the news and information media of North America and Europe deeply alienating for anyone living outside the Western conceptual bubble.
Entering that contrived twilight landscape of fake perspectives, truth is barely even glimpsed, caught now and then flitting among the falsehoods and distortions like a fugitive. For the most part, people in the West have internalized a viciously counterproductive set of demented false beliefs. For example, that Western governments are well intentioned and law abiding, that Western societies are morally superior to others, that Western media give a true and fair view of events and that Western dominated corporate capitalism makes the most efficient use of the world’s resources.
Focusing more specifically on Latin America and the Caribbean, Western media project false beliefs such as, among so many others :
war-torn Colombia is a model for the region
US militarization and the war on drugs promotes regional stability
Argentina is an economic basket case
the system of US plutocracy is more democratic than socialist Cuba
Nicaragua’s government is authoritarian and anti-democratic
the Organization of American States is the region’s most important body
These false beliefs are complemented by crucial, purposefully engineered omissions again among numerous others, such that :
the abject failure of US and EU supported neoliberal economic policies never happened
Venezuela’s social and economic progress since 1998 never happened
Haiti is not a scandalous, categorical standing indictment of US and EU policy in the region
ALBA and Petrocaribe never happened
CELAC and UNASUR summits never take place
US government complicity in genocide, disappearances, paramilitary terrorism, mass torture and narcotics was a regrettable but understandable mistake
Cuba’s incredible contribution to the region’s health and education systems never happened
Nicaragua’s recovery in just 8 years from virtual economic collapse never happened
persistent determined US and allied intervention to destabilize governments never happens
Western governments and media aggressively project these false beliefs and ensure the corresponding deliberate omissions in an unending, relentless campaign of psychological warfare against any contradictory alternative, especially the Venezuelan and Cuban led Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas. It is commonplace now to note how those beliefs and omissions are purposefully manufactured by the enormous apparatus of corporate-controlled conceptual production. Less attention is generally paid to how that production can be supplemented by the intricate network of Western non-profit news and information outlets.
Even people in the West who regard themselves as quite critical, in practice tend complacently to embrace demonstrably false beliefs, surrendering their minds to varieties of seduction and manipulation no less pernicious for being labeled “alternative”. All this makes of great urgency access to communications technology independent of North American and European governments and finance institutions. At a time when the United States military still aspires to what it calls full spectrum dominance even in space, independent satellite technology is not merely a matter of national pride and emancipation but of very survival.
Not for nothing does the United States have over 520 satellies in orbit around the Earth, as against 132 for China and 131 for the Russian Federation. By contrast, based on the most readily available data, Latin American countries seem to have around 46 satellites, all told, mostly for communications but also for earth observation and scientific development. Of those satellites 19 are in geostationary orbit around 36,000km above the Earth while the rest are in Low Earth Orbit, at a height of between 160km and 2000km.
Mexico currently has four satellites operational in geostationary orbit with three satellites of various types in preparation. Brazil and Argentina each have 15 satellites in either Low Earth Orbit or geostationary orbit. Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay together have a total of 8 satellites, all in Low Earth Orbit. Colombia has a small satellite for scientific observation. Apart from Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, only Venezuela and Bolivia have communications satellites in geostationary orbit, Venezuela’s “Simón Bolívar” and Bolivia’s “Tupac Katari”.
Ground stations of Venezuela’s satellites
Venezuela’s “Francisco de Miranda” is an earth observation satellite for agricultural and environmental purposes. It will soon be joined by a second observation satellite, the “Antonio José de Sucre”. By consciously naming these satellites after their countries’ resistance and independence leaders, Bolivia and Venezuela have made them symbols of Latin America’s current Second Independence process of definitive political and economic emancipation. In this context, the decision by Nicaragua to invest resources in two satellites being built by China is another decisive step towards the emancipation not just of Nicaragua but of the whole Central American region.
It will mean that three of the member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas will have their own communications satellites. Nicaragua’s satellites will be launched in 2016 and 2017 respectively. So it was appropriate that, on August 21st last, Nicaragua hosted the launch of the Seventh Space Conference of the Americas, an event that will bring together over 250 specialists from all over the Americas and beyond in November this year.
Immediately prior to that event, Nicaragua signed an agreement with the Russian Federation allowing Nicaragua to use the GLONASS global satellite system. That agreement followed approval by Nicaragua’s National Assembly last April, for the installation of satellite ground stations to facilitate the development of GLONASS and improve its precision. From July 2016, Nicaragua will be able to use the GLONASS system for earth observation purposes.
That Low Earth Orbit satellite technology will enable the government to improve agricultural and environmental planning, monitor natural phenomena and improve its anticipation of and response to natural disasters. Nicaragua is committed to eventually deploying those uses from the GLONASS system and the benefits from its new communications satellites on behalf of its Central American neighbors as part of the government’s policy promoting regional integration. In that regard, Nicaragua has also secured agreement with South Korea and the Inter-American Development Bank to build and administer a Regional Center of Advanced Studies in Broad Band for Development.
The Center will train 12000 students in the relevant technology over the next decade and is intimately related to the satellite technology being developed in the region. Nicaragua’s Minister for National Policy, Paul Oquist, has explained, that all these steps are “Key for the Canal and the Free Zone associated with the Canal which must serve as a Regional and World Logistics Center. But you cannot have a 21st Century Logistics Hub without state of the art communications……these Communications satellites NICASAT 1 and NICASAT 2 are going to permit us to revolutionize the country’s communications….this will allow us to reduce our telephone and internet costs by at least 40%.”
Dr. Oquist also mentioned many other very important uses for the communications satellites apart from communications, such as tele-education, tele-medicine, lifetime education and training, all made available even to the most remote areas of Nicaragua. Together with the Low Earth Orbit GLONASS satellite system, the new satellites will help improve management of organized crime and other national security challenges as well as encouraging and diversifying foreign investment. As in Venezuela and Bolivia, both the geostationary satellite systems and the Low Earth Orbit systems will be government controlled. That means the benefits of the communications and the earth observation technologies will accrue directly to the public sector, while at the same time promoting private sector economic growth.
In Africa, the RASCOM satellites embodied Muammar al Gaddhafi’s vision of regional sovereign emancipation and integration. NATO destroyed that vision along with Libya itself at the same time as French troops in United Nations berets destroyed the similar vision of Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast. Now, in one form or another, in a blatant return to the days of colonial occupation, French and other NATO country troops are posted across Central, Western and North Africa. So far Latin America and the Caribbean have avoided Africa’s fate. But the United States government and its allies use constant aggressive and, needless to say, illegal political intervention and economic destabilization to attack and thwart the region’s processes of sovereign emancipation and integration. Even so, Latin America’s increasing independence in satellite technology suggests that, for the moment, the Western corporate elites and their bought-and-paid for governments are losing the race against time before the multipolar world they detest and dread so much finally overtakes them.