Grand Opening -- Las Vegas Eritrean American Community Center

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- In a bold expression of support, Eritreans showed up in droves to celebrate the Grand Opening of their Community Center on January 28. Undeterred by an orchestrated PFDJ campaign aimed at undermining the event, almost three hundred attended the gathering including a California contingent that had descended on the city in a show of solidarity.

The get-together engendered a sense of pride and jubilation, reaffirming that the hard work and tenacious message of unity had paid off. The larger-than-expected crowd was also a patent rebuke to the PFDJ and its divisive campaign against genuine aspirations of Eritreans to create a safe space for youth and adults.

Grand Opening dance
Wedi Tikul Fails to Attract Eritreans to Party to His Music

Only sixty-five guests attended the PFDJ parallel show a few miles away despite repeated calls asking their ever-dwindling membership to be there.

The Eritrean Embassy in the nation’s Capital has been assiduously masterminding the sabotage efforts in the city. During a heated conference with the local PFDJ leadership, a senior official took them to task for allowing the Eritrean American Community to thrive in their own backyard.

“It is as if you’re all dead,” he yelled at the crestfallen team that had gathered to receive yet more directives from the Embassy on how best to crush the thriving Community Center.

According to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the announcement of the Grand Opening had angered Embassy officials, provoking them to use “a big gun” to salvage the PFDJ or whatever was left of its relevance in Las Vegas.

It was decided that Wedi Tikul, the legendary crooner, might just do the trick. Or so Embassy officials thought, as they told each other that he had previously produced favorable results. Only this time around, the results were not so favorable.

In what was the first time that Wedi Tikul’s magic touch had suffered a colossal failure, his presence ended up antagonizing the Eritreans. Indeed, his abject subservience to a tyrannical regime and audacity to come to their town to undercut their noble endeavors only served to galvanize them.

In a singular event, the local PFDJ, the conspiratorial Eritrean Embassy and the regime itself suffered a big blow. What’s more, several attendees had sharp words for the singer who they said had become “a sellout and a stooge of the dictatorial government.” “He [Wedi Tikul] is more interested in making money than in standing up for justice,” one critic said.

In yet another embarrassing incident for the PFDJ, many of their guests decided to report to the Grand Opening, forcing the early dismissal of an event which had attracted a small crowd in the first place.

Background: “Isaias Zeybele Kabana Yfele”

A small room in a local bar serves as PFDJ local headquarters

Before they alienated the town folk, they used to have total control of the city. Those were the good old days when Las Vegas was PFDJ country. Not too long ago, they used to dictate that members should not frequent non-PFDJ businesses, preaching to their faithful that “it was preferable to opt for Ethiopian enterprises instead.”

If you were not a card-carrying member, you might as well kiss off getting a single customer. During a recent interview, residents shook their heads in disgust as they recalled Eritrean-owned small businesses that went under because of what they described were “Mafioso style practices” of the PFDJ.

No stone was left unturned as the regime and its messengers declared the equivalent of urban warfare against a hardworking citizenry. The more the Center was determined to create and sustain a healthy community that embraced all Eritreans, the more aggressive their attempts to destroy it. And nothing was left to chance. Be it childbirth, weddings or death, their members were asked to refrain from setting foot in any gathering that involved non-PFDJ adherents.

Since its existence was predicated upon a suffocating control of Eritreans, no one was spared its wrath. Even the lone priest was called “Woyane” when he said that “all worshipers were welcome in the House of God.”

After years of local dominance, their fortunes began to decline precipitously. Things began to go south for the PFDJ brand when their local cohorts asserted that all Community funds were to be transferred to the coffers of government. Community members vehemently fought back, asserting that their contributions should be used to support various local projects, such as education and public assistance.

Although the supporters of the regime were adamant, at least one of them agreed, albeit only in private, with the plans to spend Community funds to benefit city residents. He apologetically confided that the orders to send the monies to Asmara had come “directly from the Eritrean government.”

New Immigrants, New Momentum

Eritrean American Community Center of Las Vegas

In the meantime, a new generation of immigrants flocked to the city in search of jobs in its humming service industry, and they could not have chosen a kindlier city.

In keeping with the Eritrean tradition of helping the needy, members felt that the newcomers should get Community support during the transition to a new life, an idea that did not sit well with PFDJ members who argued that the new arrivals might not even be Eritrean. When they were not denying their identity, they questioned their commitment to the country, declaring that the escapees had shirked their national duty and thus did not merit any support.

Perversely enough, Eritreans who had left their country due to oppressive rule were denied humanitarian assistance by the agents of the same regime that was responsible for their plight. If the PFDJ had its way, the poor immigrants were condemned not to get any breaks, even as they sought shelter thousands of miles away from the brutal system.

The plans to oppose assistance to the new immigrants came by way of the Embassy. The same officials subsequently directed the local agents to break away and create their own center. It was an affront to the followers of the regime to maintain membership in a Community Center whose overwhelming majority had voted to support Eritreas in dire need of help.

Still, the PFDJ minority clique was not about to leave gracefully. With the Embassy instigating behind the scenes as usual, the separatists attempted to reclaim funds in the amount of $12,000. Citing its bylaws, the Community called their bluff. Even when they threatened to sue, they were left with no choice but to leave empty-handed.

The event that sealed their fate perhaps irreparably was the report in the media of corruption at the highest ranks. A member who had dutifully paid his “two-percent tax” found out that his deposit at the local bank totaling $4700.00 was withdrawn by none other than the YPFDJ leader in the city, Ms. Hadnet Keleta. According to the reports, she used the withdrawals to pay for an airfare to Eritrea for herself and an infant daughter. The alleged victim of the scheme was menacingly asked to maintain silence in exchange for receiving his money back.

YPFDJ members who got wind of the new revelations confronted Ms. Keleta during a tense meeting. According to the confidential sources, she became visibly agitated when asked by the youth for reassurances that they will not suffer the same fate. Media reports indicated that she had become such a liability that she is being transferred to the D.C. office.

Currently, most of their operations in Las Vegas are conducted from private homes, with a small room in a local bar serving as their headquarters. Locals gleefully told this reporter that the Embassy has been subsidizing the rental fees, as the PFDJ team has not been able to afford payments.