The Ethiopian Diaspora population in Denver is estimated at about 25 000. Until April 10, 2011 there used to be an entrenched view which suggested that Denver is a strong hold of the TPLF. This time TPLF took cover. It flew individuals from other ethnic groups. Out of the four individuals on the stage, only one was from Tigrai. He was the finance minister of the Tigrai regional government. The delegation was officially led by Berhan Hailu. Berhan was a Minister of Information during the 2005 election crisis in which about 200 were killed, 800 wounded and 40 000 were imprisoned. He was also on a related portfolio during the other massacres. He was instrumental in suppressing the horrendous crimes of Meles Zenawi.
Berhan and his delegation were received at the airport by about 8 people. He arrived on Friday April 8, 2011 at about 1PM. Abraha Belay of Denver, member of the now defunct EDU, and the self styled leader of a group that calls itself Ethiopian people community of Colorado, welcomed Berhan at the airport. Ayalew Mesfin, better known for his songs at old Police Orchestra, helped Abraha in welcoming Berhan.
Sources indicated that Arkabe Ekubai, a TPLF veteran known for fighting for the separation of Eritrea, visited Denver prior to the arrival of Berhan. Arkabe left for Los Angeles before the arrival of Berhan. A TPLF diplomat from the Woyanne Embassy in Washington was busy during the week. Using political funds, he tried to mobilize the Tigrean community in Denver. Though disproportionately high at the meeting, the vast majority of Tigreans in Denver were prudent. They did not attend the meeting. In fact many of them were helping the pro democracy forces with information.
TPLF's agents tried to distribute fliers. Pro-democracy forces responded quickly. They created a network to counter TPLF's latest offensive in Denver. The network succeeded in raising key questions at the meeting hall, and conducting a noisy four hours long successful protest demonstration at the entrance of the Red Lion Hotel, 4040 Quebec Street, Denver, Colorado. The Oromo and Ogaden brothers and sisters showed brave resistance. Other group of Ethiopian preferred to disguise themselves and tried to enter the meeting hall. It worked. Key organizers entered into the meeting hall without much difficulty.
At the entrance security personnel was asking for an "invitation paper". A number of Ethiopians presented "the invitation paper" without difficulty. Pro democracy forces from the Tigrean community managed to get as many copies as need to let their non Tigrean brothers and sisters enter the meeting hall. Nonetheless, known pro democracy activists were turned away by TPLF's agents. An Eritrean taxi driver (raised in Gondar) by the name of Fetseme, and Mulugeta Berhe and Semere were the main agents of TPLF in town. At the registration, they were informing the security who should get in and who should not be allowed to come into the meeting hall.
The capacity of the hall was about 500. The number of hired workers and those who had a name tag was about 28. At the entrance there were about 10 security workers. About 40 individuals were standing near the walls. On photograph they look like participants. They were forcing individuals to were their hats. The hats were forcefully distributed. Of the 500 seats there were many vacant seats throughout the meeting. At 4:00 PM, there were no more than 380 people in the hall. This figure includes the members of Berhan's delegation and the organizers. Hence, (380/20 000) x100%= 1.9%. This is less than two percent of the Ethiopian Diaspora in Denver. his is in spite ofTPLF's propaganda, budget, control, psychological pressure through (land, visa, figure prints, taxes, passport renewals, etc.). In conclusion more than 98% of Ethiopians in Denver were not interested in listening to TPLF's propaganda.
The meeting was scheduled to start at 1PM. It started one and half hours late. Before the meeting they were showing a video that was prepared by Walta Information Center (some call it Walta Disinformation Center). When Berhan's delegation went to the podium at about 2:35, the reception was cold. Perhaps shaken by the cold reception and the noisy demonstration outside the meeting hall, Berhan opened the meeting with a broken voice at about 2:40 PM. At about 2:45 an activist raised his hand and asked clarity about the agenda of the day. He requested Berhan to start the meeting with a prayer for those who were massacred during the 2005 election. The individual who asked the question was a member of an election observation team in 2005. He was also one of the organizers of the televised pre-election debates between Seyoum Mesfin (Ex Foreign Minister and now Ambassador to China) and Dr Berhanu Nega, now the chairperson of Ginbot 7 Movement for Justice.
Berhan showed no respect for the dead. He sarcastically said"may be we will pray after the meeting", and continued with his speech. At about 2:45 three security forces came and removed the person who asked the prayer question. They confiscated his camera. He was thrown out of the hall. Berhan condoned the removal and continued with his speech. The meeting became more tense than it was at the beginning. Another pro democracy was also forced to leave the hall as she was verbally abused by one of the organizers, and her camera was also taken away. At about 3:15 another person raised his hand and asked a question. He was also thrown out. Berhan went through the power point document and spoke for about an hour. The presentation was unexciting. The statistics was largely manufactured. He tried to capture the attention of the audience by raising the dam project on the Nile. All things considered, Berhan was a bad salesman for the Meles Zenawi's Millennium Bond.
Despite the fact the meeting was exclusive, tense, controlled and orchestrated for propaganda, a number of individuals were able to raise penetrating questions. Berhan was guided by TPLF's agents who were standing and sitting in strategic place so that he gives time to selected individuals. In spite of this interesting questions started coming. Democracy, election, corruption, police brutality, inequality, land lease, land speculation, citizenship rights and documentation, port, eviction, Egypt, taxes, environment, human rights, and defense and security matters were raised. Berhan struggled to answer. His colleagues tried to help him, bud did worse than him. One individual referred to them as the "pumpkin delegation".
The noisy protest demonstration that started at about 12:30 PM ended at 5:30 PM. Women and children participated. The noise at times was heard in the meeting hall. Those who were unhappy with the manner in which the meeting was conducted started leaving the hall at about 4:00 PM. At about 5:30PM Abraha wanted to divert the focus of the meeting. He told Berhan that he wants to buy the millennium bond. The meeting ended at about 6:00 with a so called declaration. The audience had no input whatsoever on the content of the declaration. The overzealous hotel security asked us to use the back door (store and fire exit) to get out of the building. On Tuesday, April 12 at about 11:30 the TPLF agent from the embassy together with the finance minister of Tigrai left Denver for Las Vegas. Berhan left Denver for Washington DC on the same day.
We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.
Martin Luther King Jr.