Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Authoritarian Outliers

Mother Jones seems to be the only magazine that consistently writes about the Bush Administration's relationships with oil-rich authoritarian regimes. In their July/August 2004 issue, David Case explored the U.S. relationship with Azerbaijan. In it, he laid out U.S. interests in the region.
The former Soviet republics surrounding the Caspian Sea sit on oil reserves totaling as much as 200 billion barrels, or $4 trillion worth (Saudi Arabia, by comparison, has roughly 250 billion barrels). Azerbaijan is the bottleneck through which the United States has insisted the region's oil must flow, skirting shorter, riskier routes crossing Russia or Iran. BP, the largest investor in Azerbaijan, is building a 1,000-mile pipeline from Azetbaijan's Caspian coast to the Turkish port of Ceyhan; at the time of the October election, hundreds of millions of dollars in public financing for the project--from the World Bank and the U.S. government's Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)--were awaiting final approval.
Notably in the October 2003 elections, Azerbaijan's President Heydar Miyev Aliyev tapped his son, Ilham, to succeed him. Unsurprisingly, Ilham won though:
International monitors condemned the election as a sham, replete with voter intimidation, violence, ballot box stuffing, and brutal repression. U.S. officials had promised that vote cheaters would be punished. But the administration--and particularly Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who before taking his post in the Bush administration served as a consultant for U.S. companies doing business in Azetbaijan--has continued to support its friends in Baku, embracing the regime even as it stole the election and jailed and tortured its critics.
More of this sort of thing is going on down South, in the sub-Sahara country of Equatorial Guinea as Peter Maass reports in Mojo's January/February issue. There, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo rules over an oil kleptocracy without condemnation from the liberty-loving Bush Administration. Here's why.
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.
Equatorial Guinea is not the only country in the region to have emerged as a major oil supplier for the United States. West Africa is central to America’s effort to reduce dependency on Middle East oil. The region currently supplies 15 percent of America’s energy, and that figure is expected to rise to 25 percent within a few years. A report prepared by the African Oil Policy Initiative Group (AOPIG), a panel of U.S. government and energy industry officials brought together by the Jerusalem-based neoconservative Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, proposed that the Gulf of Guinea be declared a “vital interest” in U.S. national security policy. The report, unveiled at a press conference in 2002 by several congressmen, proposed that the U.S. military presence be enhanced to include a unified military command for Africa and a home port in São Tomé, an island state in this gulf. Three months later, President Bush convened a meeting with Obiang and nine other Central African leaders at the United Nations to discuss military and energy security. And in a sign of Equatorial Guinea’s new strategic role, a lieutenant colonel in the Special Forces -- the U.S. military attaché from neighboring Cameroon -- represented the Pentagon in the grandstand at the independence parade in Ebebiyin.

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.”
Cheerleaders despite evidence that Teodoro Obiang tortures opposition figures and even threatened the life of an American ambassador. Like various other little-Hussein's, he recently won reelection with 97% of the vote. Worse, while the government reaps $1.5 billion in revenue, or $3,000 per capita, the people of Equatorial Guinea survive on only $2 a day.

Maass' article goes on to report that Teodoro Obiang's ability to enrich himself was aided by none other than D.C.'s own Riggs Bank. Who heads Riggs Bank's investment arm you might ask? Well, none other than our President's uncle, Jonathan Bush. U.S. oil companies are also implicated in other shady activities associated with the Teodoro regime. Do yourself a favor and read this incredible expose of cronyism and corruption that provides another telling outlier to President's Bush liberty crusade.