The general belief, I would dare say, is that during the eight years of the Barack Obama presidency, the number of mountains in the world that bear the names of presidents of the United States decreased by one. That would have happened on August 30, 2015, when Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that the highest mountain in North America, in the state of Alaska, would no longer officially be called “Mount McKinley.” Rather, the majestic 20,310 ft. mountain, which since 1917 had officially borne the name of President William McKinley, would henceforth officially be called “Denali,” which is what it has been called for centuries by the Koyukan people who live in the area. The “Denali” usage had already become quite common, following the lead of the state of Alaska, which had changed the official name in 1975.
As a matter of fact, though, the number of mountains in the world named for U.S. presidents was the same on the day Obama was first inaugurated that it was the day he left office. That is because on August 4, 2009, in the first year of his presidency and on Obama’s 48th birthday, the name of a mountain in Antigua, the larger of the two major islands of the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, was changed from Boggy Peak to Mount Obama in honor of the 44th U.S. president.
The Caribbean honor might have escaped our attention, but as the revelations of the shady partisan goings-on in Obama’s administration grow, the unintended symbolism of the award can now hardly be missed. Mount Obama, after all, soars to a height of 1,319 feet. Here is the entire text for the attraction on the official tourism web site of Antigua and Barbuda:
Its is [sic] not a climb to speak of, but more a stroll up the hill.
The summit is fenced off and crowned by a very noticeable AT&T telecom antenna; views are nil unless you manage to get inside the antenna compound, a rare feast as the telecom complex is hardly ever manned and the gates are locked.
Mount Obama is now a National Park and a few great jungle trails have been opened on the north side of the mountain, leading to the summit and beyond.
Notice that they don’t even bother to tell you that the mountain has the distinction of being the highest peak on Antigua. New national park though it might be, and one honoring the first president of the United States with African roots, like the majority of Antigua’s residents, the mountain still seems to be getting the sort of respect that Robert Coram described in his 1993 exposé, Caribbean Time Bomb: The United States’ Complicity in the Corruption of Antigua:
Antigua is physically different from many of its Caribbean neighbors in that it is relatively flat. Only in the southwest corner of the island can a few small mountains be found. Boggy Peak is the tallest, at 1,330 ft. (since revised downward ed.). Tourists always want to go to the tallest peak, but to reach Boggy Peak requires a taxi ride up a rough unpaved road and then a half-hour walk. Taxi drivers do not like to drive up unpaved mountain roads, they do not like to walk, and they do not like to wait when they could be carrying another fare. So most taxi drivers rarely mention Boggy Peak. Rather, they tell visitors that Shirley Heights, which is on the distant southern coast and can be reached by paved road, is the highest peak.
This mountain is beginning to look as fitting for our 44th president as that official portrait that they just unveiled. One might well understand why the leaders of Antigua and Barbuda, like the members of the Nobel Prize committee who awarded him the Peace Prize just two months after the mountain was named for him, might have become a bit carried away in the early months of Obama’s presidency, seeing him primarily as a symbol of accomplishment up to that point. Then, as the reality of his actual achievements as president became manifest, they could mute the “Mount Obama” message to avoid embarrassment, and at the same time the Antiguan government could keep its taxi drivers happy.
I must say from my own experience that the message was sufficiently muted a couple of years ago that when the cruise ship I was on visited Antigua and we did a half-day excursion on the island, we never heard anything about Mount Obama. The excursion didn’t take us anywhere near it. Only recently did I learn from the Internet about the name change.
U.S. Deep State Playground
Another reason for affixing the name of an American president on Antigua’s most prominent peak, such as it is, is suggested by the subtitle of Coram’s book. At the time of its publication, the only prime minister the island republic had ever had was former labor leader Vere Cornwall (V.C.) Bird, Sr., and the Bird family had ruled the island like a private family fiefdom. Corruption has been rampant, with virtually everything and every public official for sale to the highest bidder. That highest bidder is often the United States government, and, according to some critics, some of the more nefarious and dubious elements of the U.S. government, at that. Again we turn to Coram’s revealing book:
No other English-speaking island in the eastern Caribbean has had a greater U.S. presence or received more U.S. dollars than Antigua. What most Americans do not know, and what the United States government would like to keep secret, is that America has spent almost two hundred million dollars since 1979 to support and perpetuate the government of V.C. Bird.
The United States displays such avuncular political closeness and such financial benevolence because Antigua has virtually abandoned its sovereignty where the giant to the north is concerned. The Bird government has granted concessions to the U.S. government that America gets nowhere else in the world. For example, any aircraft belonging to the U.S. government can land on Antigua any time of the day or night, without prior notice, and without anyone on board having to go through Customs or Immigration. This gives the U.S. military, the CIA, and a half-dozen other government agencies carte blanche to use Antigua for whatever secret training exercises, enforcement efforts, or clandestine operations military men or government agents can devise. Plausible denial can be maintained because there is no record of the U.S. presence. And it is doubtful that any other small island nation anywhere in the world would allow the U.S. military, on a regular and consistent basis, to blow up its coral reefs as part of underwater demolition training. But until 1991 once or twice each week, big hunks of Antigua’s reefs were blasted out of the sea by America’s underwater warriors.
In return, Antigua has received more than direct financial support. The Coram quotes so far are just from his prologue. This is from page 119:
And when dozens and then hundreds of pregnant Antiguan women flew to the American Virgin Islands so they could deliver their children on United States soil and thereby have them born as United States citizens, it was the U.S. embassy on Antigua that provided the documentation. Within a few years the official number of Americans on Antigua was to number in the thousands. The F-77 Report, a State Department document regarding the evacuation of American citizens in the event of an emergency, today considers some four thousand Americans to be on Antigua. But this number is extremely misleading. Only several hundred Americans, mainly retired people, live there. Almost all of the others are what the State Department calls “nontraditional Americans”—children of Antiguans who, when in advanced pregnancy, visited American soil for the sole purpose of having their children born U.S. citizens.
Returning to Coram’s prologue, we find another couple of choice paragraphs:
Land under long-term lease to the U.S. government was, on at least two occasions, leased again to third parties by the Antiguan government, in one instance to an American organized-crime group. The Antiguan government also pressured the State Department into returning part of the land leased for the U.S. Air Force tracking station. And when an Antiguan businessman appropriated and fenced in a section of the Air Force base, the Bird government refused to intercede.
Antigua is considered a significant nexus in the narcotics trafficking business. But for years Antigua was the only country in the eastern Caribbean that refused to share information about narcotics trafficking and money laundering with the U.S. government. Antigua relented in 1991 after being promised substantial financial grants under a U.S. narcotics assistance program.
A passage on page 178 suggests that elements of the U.S. government have been less than angelic when it comes to illicit drugs and Antigua:
[Longtime Antiguan journalistic gadfly and politician Tim] Hector wrote a story maintaining that the U.S. Air Force installation was a major drug center and had been used for distributing cocaine throughout Antigua. He reported that the C-141 that comes down from Patrick Air Force Base twice each week had been used to carry drugs from America to Antigua. The story was denied by the U.S. embassy, but the next week the embassy issued a press release stating that fourteen Americans, including one Air Force person, had been returned to the United States because of suspected drug involvement. The fallout from the incident is still seen in the thorough baggage searches before Air Force aircraft leave Florida for Antigua.
Not Just the Birds
Opposition party leader Baldwin Spencer was prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda in 2009 when Boggy Peak was renamed Mount Obama. Spencer served from 2004 until 2014. The third prime minister of the country since independence, he replaced V. C. Bird’s second son, Lester, who had been in office since 1994. The current Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, is married to Lester’s niece, so one might say that the Bird family dynasty has returned to power. With the changes in administration, not a lot seems to have changed on the corruption front.
The following quote is from Stephen Clarke, Senior Foreign Law Specialist of the U.S. Library of Congress concluding a report that he prepared in the waning days of the Spencer administration, relating to the island nation’s most recent major scandal at that time:
Despite an absence of reported prosecutions, Antigua and Barbuda has gained a reputation for having had governments in which officials accepted bribes in return for legal favors. There was more discussion of this regarding the two Bird administrations than the current Spencer government. However, the current government has been sharply criticized by the victims of R. Allen Stanford’s Ponzi scheme for not moving quickly to prosecute or extradite officials alleged to have committed crimes in connection with the case. While little action appears to have taken place in Antigua and Barbuda, the government of this Caribbean country has indicated that it intends to defend itself in lawsuits brought against Antigua and Barbuda by the U.S. government and persons defrauded by Stanford.
The body of the brief Library of Congress report touches on some of the issues addressed in a comprehensive fashion by Coram in his book:
During the years that it was in power, the Bird family was often accused of running a corrupt government in which officials accepted money in return for political favors. Abuses of power were also alleged. In 1990, the family was implicated in a scandal over the shipment of Israeli arms that were diverted from Antigua to a Colombian drug lord. The eldest son of the Prime Minister, Vere Bird Jr., reportedly signed for the arms as the minister in charge of national security, and he eventually resigned from both Parliament and the government. At the time of this scandal, U.S. newspapers and news organizations published several articles covering not just the arms scandal, but also such previous scandals as one involving the alleged harboring of the fugitive international financier Robert Vesco by Lester Bird in the early 1980s. A number of these articles were later posted by the Stanford Victims Coalition on its Anti-Crime Anti-Antigua Web site. This organization has stated that “Antigua is [the] home of one of the world’s most corrupt governments, which is deeply rooted in nepotism and moral depravity.”
Understandably, the Library of Congress report fails to mention the lack of cooperation given by the U.S. government to the British jurist Louis Blom-Cooper, chairman of a board of inquiry that investigated the arms smuggling scandal. Coram suggests that that was the case because the funds to purchase the arms were transmitted through the American bank, Manufacturers Hanover Trust, to the New York branch of the Israeli Bank Hapoalim, both of which served former IDF General Pinchas Shachar and Israel Military Industries (IMI). Shachar was a Miami representative of IMI, the commercial branch of the Israeli military.
Coram does not go so far as to suggest that the Israeli connection to the scandal, itself, was sufficient to explain the reticence of the U.S. government in exposing and getting to the bottom of it. Rather, here is how he sums up the situation:
At no time before, during, or after the judicial hearings did any State Department official issue a public comment on what it meant to the United States when a minister of a government friendly to America was found to be involved in setting up a school for assassins and in running guns to the Medellin cartel.
One State Department official privately stated the reason was simple: no one really cared. The Caribbean is so far down the list of State Department priorities that there is virtually no interest in what happens there. This official also said the only news that ever comes out of Antigua is bad news, and “we wouldn’t care if the place just went away.”
Central Ignorance Agency?
As farfetched as this “simple neglect” explanation might sound, one can find some oblique support for it on the pages of The World Factbook of the Central Intelligence Agency, of all places. If one goes to their page on Antigua and Barbuda, the first thing he notices there is a map that shows the two main islands situated in the Caribbean Sea, along with the nation’s next largest island, the uninhabited Redonda. On Antigua there is a small black triangle that marks the location of a notable terrain feature, “Boggy Peak.”
Yes, the CIA seems not to know that it has been “Mount Obama” for going on nine years at the time of this writing. Surely they will change it quickly now that I have pointed their error out to the public, but how could this error happen, and how could it persist for so long? That it has happened should hardly inspire confidence in this country’s main federal repository of knowledge of the rest of the world, and perhaps it goes a ways toward explaining why President Trump quickly decided that he could get along quite well without a daily briefing from this outfit.
More questions come to mind. Doesn’t this look like a big insult to President Obama on the part of the CIA? How could it happen that apparently no one in the rest of the government, like, say, the State Department or the Obama White House ever noticed the error and pointed it out to the learned folks at spook central? Perhaps they did notice it, but they were afraid to tell them, bearing in mind the observation of Senator Charles Schumer that the CIA has “six ways from Sunday to get back at you.” “Surely the wise ones at the CIA know better,” the thinking might have gone. “It must be an intentional snub for some reason that I have no need to know. The reason couldn’t be that they’re just a bunch of racists at the CIA, could it? I’d better just keep my head down.”
Yes, I know, there must be a better explanation, but I just haven’t been able to come up with it.
Noticing that Antigua has sheltered miscreants like Robert Vesco and more recently the swindlers in the Stanford Ponzi scheme, we can’t help but think that in the not too distant future Antigua might have a role to play in the life of Barack Obama besides naming a mountain for him. After the release of the Nunes memo, the noose seems to be tightening around the necks of the entire crowd involved in mobilizing the U.S. government spying apparatus on behalf of Hillary Clinton in the most recent presidential race. One name has stayed out of the limelight, Bill Priestap, the FBI’s director of counter-intelligence. Does that mean that he has flipped and is providing incriminating evidence to Congressional and Trump Justice Department investigators? If so, perhaps we are looking at a future home in Antigua for Barack Obama and Loretta Lynch, and maybe James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Bruce Ohr, Rod Rosenstein, Peter Strzok, and Lisa Page, as well.
Bill and Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, could seek refuge in that much larger country that paid them off so that they could purchase twenty percent of this country’s uranium.
February 17, 2018