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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Good Tyrants

posted by Ron Beasley at 1/19/2005 09:32:00 AM


For all of the talk of spreading democracy the US government really only objects to tyrants who won't stick to the program. Remember those pictures of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam in the 80s. And yes, the Democrats have been just as guilty of this as Bush and the Republicans. A case in point is the charming dictator of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang. Mother Jones brings us the details on how the US props up the government of this ruthless dictator in A Touch of Crude.
American bankers handled his loot. Oil companies play by his rules. The Bush administration woos him. How the pursuit of oil is propping up the West African dictatorship of Teodoro Obiang.
Mr Obiang likes to be called "El Libertador". He came to power in a bloody coup which overthrew Equatorial Guinea's first dictator, Obiang's uncle Francisco Macias Nguema. And although Obiang did liberate them from that dictator he has proved to be just as bad.
Equatorial Guinea sometimes seems a parody of an oil kleptocracy -- a Blazing Saddles of the world of petroleum. Yet it has emerged as an all-too-real example of how a dictator, awash in petrodollars, enriches himself and his family while starving his people. His conduct has been aided by American companies: As detailed in Senate and Treasury Department documents, Riggs Bank helped Obiang shuttle millions into offshore accounts. Oil companies, meanwhile, made payments to his regime that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is now scrutinizing under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

If America?s interest in foreign countries were predicated on human rights, Equatorial Guinea would have seized our attention long before its 1995 oil boom. Francisco Macias Nguema, whose self-bestowed titles included "Leader of Steel," "The Sole Miracle of Equatorial Guinea," and, of course, "President for Life," was a morph of Idi Amin and Pol Pot. He killed or forced into exile nearly a third of the population, decimating in particular the small educated class. Some of his victims were crucified on the road leading to the airport. It was one of the 20th century's most brutal genocides, but no foreign power except for Equatorial Guinea's former colonial ruler paid attention to it, and the fascist regime of Spain's Francisco Franco was not overly troubled by human rights abuses. Obiang's coup was a welcome event, and his rule has not been nearly as ruthless as his uncle's. Of course,that's not much of an achievement.
The US embassy was closed they in 1995 because of human right violations after the life of the ambassador was threatened. But all that changed a year latter.
The country might have disappeared from our geopolitical radar had Mobil not struck oil in the waters off Malabo later that year. It quickly became clear that the Zafiro oil field was world-class. After a decade of development, oil production in Equatorial Guinea stands at more than 300,000 barrels a day, which at current prices translates to nearly $5.5 billion a year. A gas field owned by Marathon Oil has also become a major producer, and the ocean beds off Equatorial Guinea are being combed for additional deposits. Energy companies have invested several billion dollars in Equatorial Guinea, and Marathon is building a major liquefied natural gas facility. It is now possible to fly nonstop from Malabo to Texas on a weekly flight known as the "Houston Express."
U.S. corporations are now investing more in Equatorial Guinea than in any other African country except for Nigeria and South Africa. In 2003, the Bush administration reopened the embassy, a move sharply criticized by human rights groups as a favor to the oil companies and to Obiang. Frank Ruddy, U.S. ambassador to Equatorial Guinea in the mid-1980s, decries current U.S. policy, saying that Bush administration officials are "big cheerleaders for the government -- and it"s an awful government."
So much for freedom and democracy when oil and oil companies are involved.
Yet to Western oil companies, Equatorial Guinea is an ideal partner. Nearly all of its oil and gas reserves are offshore, which means securing the fields is relatively easy. ExxonMobil and Marathon workers live in gated compounds that operate their own electrical, water, and communication systems. Unlike in Nigeria or Saudi Arabia, foreign workers do not face major security threats, and the government's brutish security apparatus has kept the violent-crime rate low. Expats freely cruise the rutted streets of Malabo in their pickup trucks and hang out at the most popular bars, like La Bamba and Shangri-La, among an abundance of professional women, known as "night fighters" because they bicker over prospective clients.

Most important for oil companies, Equatorial Guinea is a profitable place to do business. According to a 1999 report by the International Monetary Fund, oil companies received "by far the most generous tax and profit-sharing provisions in the region." The state received only 15 to 40 percent of the revenues from its oil fields, while the norm in sub-Saharan Africa was 45 to 90 percent.
And what do the people of Equatorial Guinea think?
"Obiang doesn't care about the people, only his family," the man said. "He doesn't want to share the money. He says he wants democracy, but if I say to him these things, I will go to jail and be killed. It is our brother who is killing us. The whites, they should help us. Saddam Hussein, he was a dictator, and the whites decided to get rid of him. They should help us, too."

By "whites" he meant "Americans." We are the ones offering jobs to a lucky few workers. In his eyes, we are the ones who stand for democracy and a future that is not filled with theft and violence by a government mafia. We are a good people who will do what is right -- or should do what is right.
Is it any wonder that the world sees the US as hypocritical imperialists?