Far from the headlines generated by President Trump’s controversial policy of separating illegal immigrants from their children, is a most welcome decision filed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service in May to in effect place a moratorium on all cotton goods deriving from the Central Asian former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan.

Long held up as implementing policies more in line with the definition of a failed rather than a rogue state, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedow’s Turkmenistan would appear to be an adherent of human rights abuses perpetrated in the likes of North Korea, all the while upholding the Central Asian state as an exemplar of prosperity and contentment. Indeed, money generated from fossil fuels had placed Turkmenistan in a financially enviable position, had the leader’s autocratic and narcissistic rule not used much of the country’s wealth to glorify his self-styled deification. Designed to display to an otherwise ignorant international community that the country’s riches are being used to create an egalitarian state to benefit all, the reality of seaside resorts, golf courses, and pointless edifices closed to all but the favoured few, would suggest otherwise. Shortsightedness and selfishness have usurped the implementation of an absent Sovereign Wealth Fund; the chance to place Turkmenistan on a long-term, financially sound footing has been missed.

Turkmenistan’s cotton crop harvest has been a big deal in the country long before its secession from Moscow rule, but has become the subject of some of the most serious accusations leveled against the state. Those whose lives are primarily tasked with harvesting the cash crop are issued uncompromising targets; even citizens with professions far removed from agriculture are pulled away from their day jobs to ‘do their bit’ in the cotton fields. Reluctance or downright refusal to do so remain as options, but usually at the expense of their position in life, and perhaps that too of their family’s. One’s own quota can in effect be sold on by paying a fine to the state(on the proviso someone else can be found to pick up the slack) although this often amounts to a fee financially out of reach to even those in professional vocations. Turkmenistan’s cotton production in effect amounts to forced labour motivated by threats, coercion, and the fear to what the consequences of justified refusal will amount.

It is pleasing yet unfortunate that it has taken so long for the U.S. to wake up to these abuses, but the Trump regime is not afraid to tread where the previous administration feared to venture. In an attempt to please everyone without actually doing much at all, the Obama presidency will be remembered for very little other than stasis. The devil in the detail will be the implementing of the prohibition order, and must not be reversed by this or future administrations until regime change in Ashgabat moves away from the grotesque mistakes of the past and those that still persist. It is worth noting the country that until recently was awash with cash, now frittered away on Potemkin-esque projects, is suffering ongoing shortages of basic foodstuffs. With this in mind the cost of its barely used, bird-shaped airport was roughly $2 billion dollars; a further $1 billion blown on the Awaza seaside resort that few will ever see, or play on the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, to name just a few of the country’s high-profile, expensive mistakes.

It is as of yet unclear how the American embargo on Turkmenistan’s cotton products will further effect the living standards of the man in the street, although the U.S. tended to derive goods from Turkey who procured them from the source. It would therefore take a substantial volte face from Istanbul for U.S. policy to have the greatest impact. Nevertheless, the publicity brought to the plight of the many not the few in Turkmenistan will substantially reduce the ignorance commonplace in the international community, although a very real need for regime change and the breaking of the lifetime rule planned by Berdymukhamedow and his dynastic aspirations would appear, for some time at least, to be distant prospects.

Further information and source material:

Eurasianet: https://eurasianet.org/s/turkmenistan-cotton-bans-and-whitewashes

Sight Magazine: https://www.sightmagazine.com.au/news/9487-us-bans-imports-of-slave-picked-cotton-from-turkmenistan

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: https://www.rferl.org/a/u-s-bans-import-cotton-products-turkmenistan/29247850.html