Sometimes Congressman Tom Tancredo is the most predictable of politicians. On other occasions, he's anything but.
In the year since Tancredo was profiled by Westword ("The Flag-Bearer," July 3, 2003), he's frequently lined up with lawmakers on the far-right end of the ideological continuum. For example, he endorses the Marilyn Musgrave-sponsored Constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and he voted to retain a provision of the USA Patriot Act allowing the feds access to individuals' library and bookstore records.
But he's also paired with one of the House's most liberal voices on a project that may give pause to critics who accuse him of racism. On July 13, he and Representative Donald Payne, a New Jersey Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, announced that they were introducing a resolution asking that Darfur, in the northern part of the Sudan, be declared in a state of genocide as a result of warfare that's displaced over a million people and left tens of thousands dead. Earlier this month, Tancredo and Payne flew to Scotland to press this cause at sessions of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, formerly the Helsinki Commission. "Our whole purpose was to try to get the European nations to help us in an effort in the U.N.," Tancredo says. "If our government and the U.N. declare this to be a genocide, certain things can happen -- even sending troops to stop it."
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Tancredo's been on the Sudan beat for years. He authored the Sudan Peace Act, which was intended to expedite famine relief and force warring Muslim and Christian factions to find non-violent solutions to their disagreements; President George W. Bush signed it in October 2002. Unfortunately, the legislation has done little to alleviate the pain in Darfur. "It's ethnic cleansing," notes Tancredo. "Arab Muslims are fighting black Muslims, and rape is an actual tactic of war. As the Arabs are raping black Muslim women, they tell them they're doing it in order to produce lighter-skinned children."
The threat of disease looms over the region as well. Senator Sam Brownback and Representative Frank Wolf, Republicans from Kansas and Virginia, respectively, traveled to Darfur in late June; in a report on the trip, they call Darfur "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today" and cite predictions that cholera and other ailments could take a million lives there by next year.
This situation "is enough to make your blood boil and bring tears to your eyes," Tancredo says. "We went into Yugoslavia and Kosovo to stop ethnic cleansing, but the numbers there were never anywhere near what they are in the Sudan. When you look around the world, you'll find few if any places that have suffered the way this country has. The fact that we can't get people to think about this, to care about this, is very frustrating."
Of course, Tancredo supports the war in Iraq, and with so many American soldiers deployed there, the odds are slim that any U.S. administration would send troops to the Sudan. Nonetheless, this man of many contradictions isn't about to surrender. "God never tells you that you must win every battle you get into," he says. "He tells you to try everything you can."