Refugees from Kazakhstan, the former Soviet republic
Fighting deportation to an almost certain death: the Bulatov Family.
What happens when a country with significant oil supplies is considered to be an ally of the United States but is, according to Wikileaks, riddled with corruption and mafia-style autocratic rule? Lately we've been hearing a lot about what has been going in the Middle East due to media coverage of the recent pro-democracy populist movements in Tunisia, Egypt, and now in Lybia to break free from despotic rule. Yet, we have not heard very much about what is going in Central Asia, where it appears that authoritarianism is alive and well, post-Soviet era. In Kazakhstan, it is currently a crime to insult its President and it seems that even our own U.S. government has been trying to call for a more open government in that country but doing so very carefully so as to not "offend" Kazakhstan's President too much.
When the Soviet Union fell, the western world rejoiced at the prospect of freedom and democracy coming to the former Soviet Republics; but what progress has been made towards this end? In the case of Kazakhstan, its oil and gas supplies have been opened to capitalist markets, and that is almost certainly viewed by Wall Street as "progress". Yet, the country's record on civil rights has lagged behind, having a direct impact on the livelihood of its citizens to the point that some of them have been seeing themselves as having no other choice but to flee to the United States in fear of their very lives. So what has really changed since the fall of the Soviet Union? Who are the rulers of Kazakhstan and what are their relationships to U.S.-based business interests?
Kazakh officials have made quite a reputation for themselves, starting with its eccentric President, Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev. Not only has he clung to the Presidency since the country declared its independence from the USSR and not content with changing the constitution to pursue re-election as many times as he pleases, Nazarbayev is said to have dispatched his country's scientists to find an elixir of life so that he can stay alive to rule the country for many more years to come. The excesses of that country's ruling class would be simply comical if it weren't for the disturbing tales of civil rights abuses that are starting to surface.
The GonzoTimes website has recently been following the case of the Bulatov Family, an immigrant family from Kazakhstan that are currently fighting deportation literally for fear of their very lives. In short, the family saw themselves with no other choice but to migrate to the United States due to mafia-style threats they received from criminal elements that were in business with Kazakhstan government officials. As the GonzoTimes explains, Mr. Mikhail Bulatov, the patriarch of the family, was a thriving small businessman back in Kazakhstan. He was talked into entering into some government-sponsored deals under a program to supposedly grow that country's small businesses. However, once knee-deep into the business partnership, Mr. Bulatov discovered that his new "partners" brought with them contraband merchandise and criminal activity. Kazakh police and other officials would then stick Mr. Bulatov with made up charges of murder, arrest, and torture him. Mr. Bulatov would be beaten and extorted by warring Kazakh gangs, which he would later discover to be in bed with the very same Kazakh officials that had placed the charges on him because it appears that both parties wanted the same from Mr. Bulatov: for him to "share" his business and "cooperate" with them. After being released from jail, Mr. Bulatov's and his family's nightmare would not stop with leaving the country, as the GonzoTimes explains:
Close to a month after his detainment began - on nothing more than suspicion - Bulatov was visited by a mysterious man. This man did not give his name, rank, or anything of the like. His power, however, was evident as the guards treated him with a great deal of respect & in fact almost reverence. During the visit, Bulatov was asked if he he'd had sufficient time to think things over & come to proper conclusions.
The following is Mikhail Bulatov's personal account of that meeting:
"He asked me whether I had time to think and come to appropriate conclusions. I told him that even under the threat of death I'm not going to confess to a murder that I didn't commit, will not turn over my business, (and I) will not work for them...
To that the man replied that I shouldn't be afraid of death just yet, because they need me alive and that my confession is not required. He said that, should they decide, they can imprison me for as long as they want, even for life--regardless of whether I confess to any crimes or not--because they have more than enough methods to do so. He said that I don't understand the seriousness of my situation. On examples, such as mine, they will show to everyone who tries to be independent, or who tries to oppose their power and rule and fight it. To all the slaves to what end their actions will lead them, that in this country everyone must submit to their rules and demands...
He said that right now this is a local case, but if I don't reconsider and submit to their demands they will make this case of national and possibly international. He also assured me that I have his word that sooner or later they will get to my family, unless I change my mind and submit to all of their demands. As he said, "Your own death is not the worst thing that can happen--it is quick. We will see how you feel when we have your family. Killing you is easy, but you know well that a good master does not kill their slaves, it is not profitable. A good slave is worth a lot, and an obedient slave is an example to others. You will be an example, either you submit and be an example or we will punish you and make you an example, your choice."
As if stories of civil and human rights violations like the Bulatov Family's were not enough, it appears that American business interests are tangled up with Kazakhstan's natural resources. In fact, it appears that an American company has been embroiled in bribing Kazakh state oil chiefs in pursuit of a lucrative contract for oil and gas supplies. According to The Guardian:
A British tycoon [has been] identified by US diplomats as the man at the centre of one of America's worst recent corruption scandals, in which large bribes were allegedly handed over in the ex-Soviet state of Kazakhstan.
Robert Kissin, a UK banker and commodity trader, is alleged to be the key middleman who handled a $4m (£2.5m) secret payment.
According to leaked US diplomatic dispatches released by WikiLeaks, the cash was moved through a Barclays bank account set up in London on behalf of an offshore shell company registered in the Isle of Man, where true ownerships are easier to conceal.
The money was designed to help Texas oil services company Baker Hughes make corrupt payments to Kazakh state oil chiefs in return for a lucrative $219m contract, according to the company's subsequent admissions.
Since Kazakhstan currently holds the 11th largest proven oil and gas reserves of the world, having access to that country's oil means big profits, something that tends to be prioritized by big corporations above everything else, including civil and human rights. How many tales of torture like the Bulatov Family's nightmare must slap us in the face in order for us to connect the dots and recognize that something is terribly wrong? Is this another case of business deals being more important than human lives?