Did you know today’s astronomical gas prices at the pump is a planned event? In the Midwest, where oil companies blamed an alleged oil shortage—oil quantities are actually greater than last year at this time. The big 10 oil companies, who work closely with OPEC, are, in fact, responsible for the current level of “price gouging” (legal unless the decision to do so was done in collusion). Oil companies argue they’ve suddenly had to add the expense of ethanol to meet environmental standards. The reality? They’ve had 5 years of planning to meet this standard. Meanwhile, raised prices mean raised profits. According to Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Project, domestic oil profits (1st quarter 2000) were up 500%.
As their registers ring healthily, to the south lay the largest untapped pool of petroleum in the entire Western Hemisphere—pooled under Colombia.1 The amount? Nearly 3 billion untapped barrels worth a hundred oil fortunes to conglomerates whose histories reveal little return to the people whose lands provide it.
With the financial progress of multinational oil companies at the heart of our petro-economy, each new foray into another’s sovereign territory can be looked at with a raised eyebrow and the distant echo of a filling stations’ hungry welcome bell. Many of the dozen or so skirmishes we’re currently “policing” have an odd coincident mineralogical component. Example: The 1.6 billion dollars in military aid to Colombia is less an act of a “drug” war—as we’ve been told—than it is an action against Colombia’s oil-wary villagers who plan to protect their land from being drilled and environmentally destroyed—with subsequent profits headed north. The villagers (called “leftist guerillas”) have become a significant threat to multinational oil derricks whose financial turgidity depends upon unrestricted suction. It therefore, becomes necessary to involve the Commerce Department’s allies at the Defense Department in securing these areas militarily. Pitching the threat of “rampant drug trafficking” always ensures a hearty public backing. “The fact is that we have military commitments there because of the oil. And it has always been that way. [Look at] the president and the previous president. It’s been stated by the military and we have an agreement that emphasizes no other alternatives.” says Ed Rothchild of Citizen Action, a Washington-based human rights organization.
Using taxpayer funds, U.S.-manufactured Black Hawk helicopters, high-end digital surveillance, satellite communications, and assorted weaponry have been sent to Colombia to defeat locals who’ve stated they plan to defeat foreign (U.S./UK) oil incursion and use their own geysers to improve the quality of life in endless suffering villages.
This $1.6 billion of gringo green is made a more poignant public giveaway, particularly when the donor administration, at a White House Press conference May 2nd, claimed there was little money available for education. I collared Bruce Reed there, President Clinton’s Domestic Policy Advisor, as he entered the West Wing:
Harrison: “Is it frustrating when you talk about how poor schools are, and yet there’s a $260,000,000 Pentagon budget? There’s clearly plenty of money. It’s just not going where it needs to go. Is it frustrating to you—I mean, you know the reality of it?”
Bruce Reed: “…W…(pause)….We would like to do… um… (pause)…um …uh… (pause)… We would like to do much more to help poor schools.”
Dying for Oil
When the siphoning of taxpayer loot for oil company welfare/warfare isn’t politically manageable, oil conglomerates often take matters into their own hands—or more accurately, into the hands of others better suited to get the job done, like local military dictators. Several years ago, Shell Oil actually admitted to smuggling weapons in their oil drums to Africa, presumably to assist Nigeria’s former military dictator, Sani Abacha, in “managing” unhappy villagers. According to Fred Smith, editor of Washington’s Multinational Monitor, “It’s kind of convoluted, what exactly the weapons were for and what they were used for, but they’ve admitted that. And they’ve clearly worked with the Nigerian government in that region.”
Having fled Africa to the sanctuary of American medicine in Chicago, Nigerian physician, Dr. Vincent Idemyor adds, “In order to look good here [U.S.], they [Shell] used the Nigerian military to do their dirty work.” Dirty work—in which the doctor says Ogoni villages were regularly dotted with severed human limbs where protesting familes had been tortured or killed by the oil-supported police force. The doctor provided video footage taken between 1993 and 1995—frequently unwatchable due to its sheer human grotesquery.
Obi Ukuna, a Nigerian with a Masters’ degree in international marketing, has been reduced to driving a cab in the U.S. after his village was slaughtered. Mr. Ukuna told of midnight military sweeps. “They killed. It was something you don’t want to see. The village was killed… and the people were cleaned, like animals, by the military.” But why would a military be so willing to commit atrocities against its own people? “The military has always wanted the money in their own private pockets, not caring about what the oil-producing areas [people] get back. They’re just in it for their own private interests.” The Royal Dutch Shell Web site (www.shell.com/reports97/frames/foi_frame.html) has published its own interests with clearly profitable gross proceeds of $150,690,000 for 1995*; 171,964,000 for 1996; and $171,657,000 for 1997.
By the mid-‘90’s, 2,250 of Ukuna’s countrymen were dead. Shell was operating 100 oil wells throughout Nigeria.
Harrison: “So they were murdered?”
Fred Smith: “Yes.”
A publicly-held oil company purchasing weapons with shareholders’ funds, then using them to kill protesting locals who had lived there for generations.
It took six calls from New York to Dallas to get beyond voice-mails for a response to past African weapons-smuggling allegations and Shell’s reported role in the deaths of thousands of native oil protestors. Finally, at 8:30 am while staff were sipping their wake-up coffees, I got this:
Harrison: “I am.”
(line transfer, phone rings)
Shell: “Shell Oil Media Relations. This is Susanne.”
Harrison: “I’d like to ask you a question about your oil drilling policies in Nigeria… that Shell Oil was taking weapons into that country and using them against the indigenous peoples.”
Shell: “Well, unfortunately… ah… (pause)… geez… ah… sh*t. (click)”
As a media person I felt fully related to. The response was similar to when I asked the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s spokesperson if she’d be willing to offer her own daughter as a test subject for Reynolds’ new “smokeless” cigarettes. These Eclipse cigarettes, I’d just been told, were a healthy choice. What eight year old doesn’t deserve good health?
In 1958, when Shell first discovered oil, the Ogoni people had no say in how Shell would exploit their oil. In the next 30 years, there would be 3,000 separate spills, averaging 700 barrels each. 400 square miles of Niger delta farmland became scorched by burning waste-gases and resulting acid rain squalls.3 Repeated oil spills poisoned rivers dead—which to a population of subsistence farmers and fishermen caused nothing less than indescribable catastrophe. Ironically, Shell Nigeria’s publication, “The Ogoni Issue”, denies any problem at all. However, in the same pamphlet, Shell admits flaring of 1,100 million standard cubic feet of gas per day along with month-long acid to the rains each year.
Little did Nigerian author, journalist, and founder of MOSOP (the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People), Ken Saro-Wiwa, know he’d be inviting the noose around his neck in 1993 when he said, “We are going to demand our rights peacefully, non-violently, and we shall win!” When the journalist organized a peaceful mass protest against Shell, he was arrested, charged with murder(?), given no trial, and executed in 19954 . The native activist became a glaring example of how telling it like it is… can kill you.
Just last month, Ogoni tribesmen finally buried the glasses and pipe of Ken Saro-Wiwa, these few items representing his only known remaining effects. Meanwhile, current Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has appropriately ordered the remains of Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow Ogoni leaders exhumed and returned to their families. This, after Ken Saro-Wiwa’s family filed suit against Shell Oil in U.S. court for millions in damages. Shell Nigeria maintains that it is now helping the Ogoni people with hospitals and schools and doing its best to mitigate the environmental damage caused by its oil exploitation activities.
But Shell, it seems, may not be the only Petro-giant to be outed for egregious corporate incivility. Another oil behemoth, Chevron, is being sued charging it ordered the murder of two Nigerian villagers in 1998. Filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Chevron lawsuit charges the company helicoptered soldiers5 to it’s Parabe oil platform in Lagos, then gunned two activists to death. The suit reveals still others were hauled away and tortured—some, for several weeks. “When they shot at me, I fell. One of them stabbed me! From there, I don’t know what’s happening to me,” said a surviving witness captured on tape by Pacifica journalist, Amy Goodman. Of the murders? In Nigeria, a Chevron Nigeria spokesman (also on tape) admitted who authorized the action: “We did; Chevron did.”
At last year’s shareholder’s meeting6, Goodman confronted Chevron’s CEO, Kenneth Derr:
Goodman: “Have you officially demanded that they not shoot protestors on your site?” Chevron: “I don’t know if we’ve officially demanded, but it goes without saying… that nobody…”
Goodman: “Will you officially demand it?”
Chevron: “No! I mean, that’s ridiculous! OK, next question, please.”
As in the past, the present, and with Derr’s bright promise for the future, interfering with the ebb and flow of petrodollars could indeed be irreparably damaging to one’s health.