WASHINGTON June 6, 2008 — -- The government of Zimbabwe is giving its impoverished citizens a stark choice, U.S. Ambassador James McGee said today: Vote for President Robert Mugabe in the upcoming election — or starve.
Millions rely on food aid in Zimbabwe, but yesterday the regime ordered that foreign aid organizations cease operations. The Zimbabwean government's own food aid programs are now the only source of sustenance for much of the population.
McGee told reporters during a videoconference from the capital, Harare, this morning that his embassy has solid evidence that in order to receive food aid from the government, Zimbabweans must first show their party registration cards.
If they have a card from Mugabe's ruling party they can have access to food, but if they only have opposition cards they must turn over their national identification cards in order to receive the food they need.
The government holds onto the cards until after the June 27 election, McGee says — meaning opposition party members will not be able to identify themselves when they go to vote.
The result, McGee said, is that many in the opposition party are forced to give up their right to vote in exchange for vital food aid.
"What we have is a bunch of greedy people who want to stay in power at any cost," the ambassador said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the move "outrageous.""That is cruel in the most sinister kind of way; using food as a weapon, using the hunger of parents' children against them to prevent them from voting their conscience for a better kind of Zimbabwe," McCormack said. "That's an example of the kind of thing that is going on in Zimbabwe today."
The United States is providing $200 million in aid to Zimbabwe this year, $171 million of which comes as food aid. The balance comes mainly in the form of medical assistance like AIDS prevention.
McGee says the U.S. has no plans to cut that aid, but currently America's help is blocked by the Mugabe government's ban on foreign aid operations.
McGee said that around 1 million people depend on food aid from international sources. He warns there may be "massive, massive starvation" unless the block is lifted. State Department officials estimate that 110,000 people will go hungry this month because they won't have access to food aid provided by only one of the international charities that were distributing food before yesterday's ban.