Monday, February 26, 2018

Congolese Conflict Metals in Florida

There’s one metal count that the U.S. is leading.  And it’s not a good one.  Tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold (known as “3TG”) sourced from conflict regions where suppliers benefit from destitute poverty and regional violence continue to flood consumer electronics and jewelry manufacturers.  And lately, a new metal has become the latest to fuel the humanitarian carnage in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo – cobalt.  Why?  Well, if you’re reading this blog on an Apple iPhone 8, Congratulations!  You’re the winner of a genocidal abuse that places over 40,000 children in virtual slavery.  And why?  Oh, that’s right, so that your lithium ion battery is a more effective power supply for your tweets about the 17 lives recently lost in Florida.

I remember the first time I had an automatic weapon in my ribs.  I was walking down Avenida Central in San Jose Costa Rica in the fall of 1986.  As I turned the corner to head towards the Post Office to send a letter back to the States, a careless guard was coming the opposite way with his gun barrel at my chest height.  The encounter was so abrupt that neither one of us knew what to do.  The M-16 hit my ribs with such force that both of us recoiled.  He apologized.  I acknowledged the apology and went on with my day.  Little did I know that I would refer to that as “the first time I had an automatic weapon in my ribs.”  Several weeks later I was in the line of carelessness and in the line of fire when I was in Northern Costa Rica as the villages where I was working were intermittently visited by Nicaraguan, Sandinista, and U.S. combatants. 

When I heard about the Florida school shooting, my heart broke for the parents and families of those who lost their lives.  The thought of sending a loved one to school only to have them never come home is a chilling indictment on what we call modern civilization.  And those in Congress and in the White House that so ardently manipulate the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution – a provision aimed at legitimizing the arming of citizens not to kill school children and teachers but to overthrow tyrannical government – should lead by example.  Show your affection for the Constitution and remove metal detectors and security at the Congress and at the White House.  Restricting gun access to both locations is an absolute violation of the 2nd Amendment.

What do these three seemingly unrelated stories have to do with each other?  The answer is quite simple.  The U.S. economy relies on death to operate.  Strum Ruger, Remington Outdoor, and Smith & Wesson all benefited from school massacres with increased sales and profits.  BlackRock, Vanguard, Fidelity and others passed some of those returns onto most of the unsuspecting public.  From Springfield Armory – named for the 1777 ammunition and arms depot established by George Washington – to Austria’s Glock to Russian, Polish, Chinese and Australian manufacturers, the business of arming the world is immense and growing.  What gave rise to the proliferation of guns in Central America?  Oh, that’s right…the Carter and Reagan impulse to spread democracy using a tangled web of Iranian militants, Columbian drug cartels, and gun runners out of Arkansas, Texas and Miami.  After pressure from Apple and others, the Dodd-Frank Section 1502 rule compelling companies to audit their metal supply chain to insure it was conflict-free was eviscerated because compliance was “too difficult”.  And while school children can demand tougher gun laws to restrict access to firearms in the moral outrage inertia in Florida, where are the same protestors when Apple continues its death march across the globe looking for impoverished governments to corrupt and looking for children to put into slave labor?  Oh, that’s right.  They’re lining up outside glass cathedrals in shopping malls and in cities across the world breathlessly waiting for their latest phone.

Oh, in case you were wondering, in response to massive community pressure Apple, Google, Microsoft, Signet and Tiffany each “contributed over $100,000 in their last full fiscal year to projects addressing a range of issues include child mining and poor safety standards for miners,” according to the Enough Project’s 2017 report.

The most recent time I had my encounter with an automatic weapon was on a tiny airstrip on an island north of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea.  I was asked by the government to examine the possibility of seeking basic human rights in response to the egregious abuses inflicted on the local communities by an Australian mining company.  After holding the airplane door closed across the beautiful sea during our 40-minute flight, we landed on an airstrip and were immediately rushed by armed employees of the mine.  They demanded that I leave.  I didn’t.  They approached me with their weapons at the ready.  One mercenary walked right up to me, shoved his gun barrel in my abdomen and proceeded to tell me what he was about to do with me.  I didn’t comply with his demands and, in a rather awkward moment, I realized that we were in an existential spiral that could go only a few ways.  I suggested that he probably didn’t want to add killing me to the list of things he had done that day and, after a few tense moments, he lowered the gun barrel. 

In a world awash with gun-aided violence and intimidation, the recent terror in Florida will soon be lost in the echoes of gun-fire somewhere else in the world.  We’ll here the gunshots in suburban U.S. neighborhoods.  We’ll here about Australia’s gun ban after the mass shooting it experienced.  The U.S., Australia, Europe, China and others may periodically apply the veneer of legislative response over the gaping moral pestilence of industries that couldn’t make their profits but for guns and the loss of innocence.  But will all lives matter?  Will all dead children count?  Hell no!  Not as long as there’s money to be made and the dead are far enough away… and black.  Sure, did Australia reduce its citizens’ gun ownership?  Yes.  But did it turn a blind eye as its corporations gunned down workers in the Pacific where the dead weren’t middle class whites?  Absolutely.  Did the U.S. pass an assault weapons ban?  Sure.  But its companies exported and distributed record amounts of fire arms all the same. 

Our persistent unconsidered adoption of consumer electronics and “green” tech is coming at a massive humanitarian cost.  While we plug in our cars and text our 140-character morality, we are willfully blind to the lives that we’re consuming.  And when the focus gets too hot on the DRC and central Africa, we just find another place out of reach for the prying eyes of the inquiring concerned and repeat the carnage there.  Take it from someone who has been on the wrong end of M-16s, Kalashnikovs, AK-47s and numerous other weapons and has watched as their masters have been tamed with humanity.  If we really want to address the senseless killings in Florida, we need to activate a much larger impulse and make the profiteering on death a social and moral relentless pursuit.  Otherwise, we’ll just move the carnage to another town and hope that it doesn’t hit the news so we can blissfully ignore what we’re doing to each other!



  1. Wow! Thanks for nailing the issue. I will be raising Pigeons and shorter messages bro. I feel for the children of tomorrow when even the few voices of sanity have been long forgotten. Thanks and if your ever in DC please stop by my no guns estate on the top of the hill. Love you brother.

  2. Our digital existence promised the kind of transparency that flushed out attribution to this supply chain of profit and death. Let's build out and support e-watchdogs like you Mr. Martin.


Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave