Weapons, Oil and South America

November 22, 2009 at 12:17 am (Global Issues, Politics) ()


By Brian Cloughley

Daily Times

Exxon Mobil is a classic case of rampant corporate greed. Its executives and shareholders prosper mightily, while citizens of the many countries which the company exploits are kept in direst poverty

On September 4, the US Congressional Research Service published details of US arms’ sales worldwide. It reported that the United States was responsible for 68.4 percent of global sales of arms in 2008, making $37.8 billion, up from the previous year’s former record of $25.4 billion. Weapons deals for the first half of 2009 totalled $27 billion.

That’s an awful lot of weaponry being sold around the world — and enormous profits for America’s arms manufacturers.

On September 14, President Chavez of Venezuela, who distrusts Washington almost to the point of paranoia, but with certain justification, announced the purchase from Russia of weapons worth about $2.2 billion.

And the following day, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in mega-scolding mode, declared that in acquisition of weapons the Venezuelans “outpace all other countries in South America and certainly raise the question as to whether there is going to be an arms race in the region.”

This would be side-splittingly funny were it not indicative of the arrogant mindset of establishment Washington, in spite of the supposedly liberal inclinations of the Obama administration. In 2006-2007 the US sold weapons to 174 of the world’s 195 countries, yet unblushingly castigates a South American nation that buys weapons from Russia.

The United States has a chequered history of involvement in South America, and its influence has been far from benign over the years. It has dabbled deviously in the internal politics of almost every Latin American country, and the attitude of Venezuela’s Chavez is understandable, given that Washington was heavily involved in the coup that temporarily toppled him in April 2002. Britain’s Observer recounted that the coup plotters were “closely tied to senior officials in the US government [who] have long histories in the ‘dirty wars’ of the 1980s, and links to death squads working in Central America at that time.”

In a staggering display of amorality, his illegally-appointed successor was immediately recognised by the US, but after a couple of days, Chavez, the democratically-elected president, was reinstated by popular demand.

The organisation Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting observed that “the New York Times triumphantly declared that Chavez’s ‘resignation’ meant that ‘Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator.” Conspicuously avoiding the word ‘coup,’ the Times explained that Chavez stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader.’

“Calling Chavez ‘a ruinous demagogue’, the Times offered numerous criticisms of his policies and urged speedy new elections, saying ‘Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate.’ A casual reader might easily have missed the Times’ brief acknowledgement that Chavez did actually have a democratic mandate, having been elected president in 1998.”

Washington regards democracy around the world as being desirable — provided rulers support the US.

After Chavez was elected he began to use his mandate to gain control of the country’s economy which was dominated by enormously wealthy US-controlled or US-influenced conglomerates. His policies were (and are) focused on the poor, and include free health care and land reform. These are anathema to the US, but of even more abhorrence is the fact that the profits of its oil giants have been affected.

President Chavez decided that his country had been ripped off by foreigners for far too long and designed arrangements whereby more oil profits would accrue to Venezuelans rather than US oil giants.

Four oil companies fell in with the Chavez reforms (US-based Chevron; Britain’s BP; Total of France; and Norway’s Statoil) but two refused to go along with the democratically elected government. They were ExxonMobil (Irving, Texas) and ConocoPhillips (Houston, Texas).

Surprise, surprise.

Exxon (to use its short title) has received over 5 billion dollars in subsidies from the US taxpayer in the past ten years, via such organisations as the US Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the World Bank. Between 1998 and 2003 the company spent 55 million dollars on political lobbying, and its contributions to the Republican Party are in the millions. (Bush, personally, got over $90,000, and the extensive list of politicians having financial obligation to Exxon makes intriguing reading.)

The company has a dreadful record of human rights abuses and environmental disasters, which make it a favourite of the Republican Party with which it has such strong links. When it is accused of breaking the law its tactics are brutally effective. It immediately throws money and lawyers at the case raised against it. It is so monstrously rich that nobody can stand up against it, because Exxon will simply stall and buy time, quite literally, by lodging appeal after appeal. Anyone having the courage to take on this merciless giant will almost certainly be defeated by the all-powerful steam roller of corporate might. (Although a British court threw out its claim against Venezuela.)

Exxon’s annual profit in 2008 was a staggering $45.2 billion. But before the action by President Chavez to have his country benefit from its natural resources, Exxon and other oil companies paid Venezuela royalties amounting to just one percent of the value of oil produced.

The former CEO of ExxonMobil, Lee Raymond, raked in 49 million dollars in 2005 and was given a retirement severance package of 400 million dollars. His pension is £12 million a year. Yet, according to the company’s own 2005 annual report, its pension fund is short of $1.2 billion.

Exxon Mobil is a classic case of rampant corporate greed. Its executives and shareholders prosper mightily, while citizens of the many countries which the company exploits are kept in direst poverty.

Little wonder there is distrust of all things American in much of South America. Countries which seek economic independence are perceived as a threat by Washington, and expressions of nationalism are regarded with horror. It’s great to be nationalistic if you’re American. But not in the South of the continent.

Ms Clinton imagines there is an arms race in South America. No: it’s a race to keep ahead of foreign rapacity.

There is a message, here, for Pakistan.

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