Barclays, the British-based financial behemoth, has been frequently criticized for its institutional role in financing the slave trade three centuries ago, for conducting business in Nazi Germany 60 years ago, and for propping up South Africa’s Apartheid regime 30 years ago.
But Barclays’ appalling lack of civic consciousness continues to this day — and Brooklyn is being tainted by it, thanks to Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner.
This week, the Sunday Times of London, a well-respected newspaper, reported that Barclays is bankrolling the corrupt and repressive regime of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, whose self-enriching terror has devastated his country’s economy and whose twisted agricultural policies have left his people destitute and starving.
This might remain a matter of international, rather than local, outrage were it not for the large role Barclays will soon play here in Brooklyn, thanks to its $400-million deal with Ratner to have its tarnished name emblazoned atop the publicly financed basketball arena proposed for the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.
When The Brooklyn Paper first raised questions about the Barclays deal in January, Ratner’s courtiers were quick to discount our criticism of Barclays’ practices as “ancient history.” They attacked The Paper for linking Barclays to financial dealings that involved many other international banking firms.
But propping up the sinister Mugabe and his murderous henchman is not ancient history — it’s happening right now.
And Barclays is profiting from it.
And so is Bruce Ratner.
The financial giant paid Ratner handsomely for the naming rights at the arena (the one being built with public money, even though the public won’t see a dime of Ratner’s naming rights windfall — but we digress).
By dealing with Barclays, Ratner was stabbing in the back his black supporters (many of whom he paid) and trashing whatever legitimate good will he might have had in the black community.
At the time, black community leaders reacted accordingly. Several, including Councilwoman Letitia James, were able to see the real problem with the way Ratner conducted his business: “Blacks,” she said, “were just tools used by Ratner to get this project passed.”
Those who would downplay the significance of having the Barclays name atop a publicly subsidized arena in a borough with a sizable African-American population should put themselves in the shoes of the descendents of the slaves that Barclays family members once traded as property and the people of Zimbabwe, whose economy is in tatters, whose freedom is in chains and whose lives are in danger every day because financial institutions like Barclays choose profits over people.
Back when the Barclays deal was announced, we called on Bruce Ratner to find a corporate partner with greater sensitivity to the Brooklynites who will someday sit in the arena.
Given the new evidence of Barclays’ relationship with the evil Mugabe regime, it’s no wonder that one of Ratner’s former supporters, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, is now calling on Brooklynites to say “Enough is enough!”
Barclays has loaned Zimbabwe landowners $1 billion in the past half year through a program to boost farm production, according to the Sunday Times of London. Here’s how that new, landowning elite is repressing the little guy in Zimbabwe:
• Many of the farms funded by Barclays were forcibly taken by President Robert Mugabe from white farmers and handed over to his cronies, rather than to average Zimbabweans, as originally promised.
• Those loans — a possible violation of European Union sanctions against Mugabe and his cronies, according to a British member of Parliament — propped up an agricultural policy that has caused drastically diminished productivity and a starvation diet for millions of Zimbabweans.
• Mugabe, who reportedly acquired three of the stolen farms, has been roundly condemned by the international community for his near total suppression of the free press, for his repression of his people, and for his land-grab policies. — Rubinstein