Wednesday, May 09, 2007

By their friends , ye shall know them

SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE:- Good morning. Welcome. I'm very pleased to welcome the President of Equatorial Guinea, President Obiang. We will have a full set of discussions about our bilateral relationship... So thank you very much for your presence here. You are a good friend and we welcome you.
April 12, 2006

Equatorial Guinea has the fortune to be Africa's third-largest oil producer. Equatorial Guinea's offshore wells pump some 350,000 barrels a day, providing the government with a $3.8 billion windfall in 2006. But oil has done little to help Equatorial Guinea's 540,000 (unofficial estimates of population are a million ) people, some 400,000 of whom suffer from malnutrition. Nearly half of all children under five are malnourished. Even though Equatorial Guinea's economy is now 20 times larger than it was in the mid-1990s thanks to growing oil revenues, school enrollment and literacy rates have not improved significantly, access to clean water remains among the most limited in the world, and life expectancy actually decreased from 2000 to 2004, according to the World Bank quoted here .

Those who are hungry know better than to complain. According to State Department reports, the president's goons have urinated on prisoners, sliced their ears and smeared them with oil to attract stinging ants. In the global rankings of political and civil liberties compiled by Freedom House, only seven countries rate worse than Equatorial Guinea.

Obiang, a somewhat unsavory and corrupt character who seized power in a 1979 coup, runs a regime regularly condemned by the State Department for human rights violations, including torture, beatings, abuse and deaths of prisoners and suspects. He's gotten as much as 97 percent of the vote in recent elections, he told CBS's "60 Minutes" a while back, but that was because "there is no one left in the opposition." Obiang fired the cabinet over what he said was incompetence and corruption. He then reappointed many of the same officials to top posts-including oil, finance, and defense-and for the first time named a prime minister from his own Fang ethnic group, a move seen by observers as further tightening his grip on affairs of state.

If President Bush and Ms. Rice want anyone to take their pro-democracy rhetoric seriously, they must stop throwing bouquets to odious dictators. The meeting with Mr. Obiang was presumably a reward for his hospitable treatment of U.S. oil firms .With more than $10 billion in U.S. direct foreign investment and major American companies such as Exxon Mobil, Marathon Oil, Amerada Hess, and Chevron winning the lion's share of exploration and extraction rights, maintaining political stability in Equatorial Guinea is a key priority for the Bush administration. Its location in the Bay of Guinea, where African oil giants including Angola, Nigeria, and Gabon are expected to provide 25 percent of all U.S. imports in just a few years, gives the Massachusetts-size country added geopolitical value. According to a 1999 report by the International Monetary Fund, oil companies operating within Equatorial Guinea 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.

"Of particular concern," the International Monetary Fund said in a June 2006 report, "is why recent rapid growth and high oil revenues have not translated into a perceptible rise in living standards and a decline in poverty."

The answer:-

In 2004, Senate investigators discovered that some $700 million from oil revenues had been deposited in the Riggs National Bank in Washington and were under Obiang's exclusive control. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations also found that the major oil companies operating in Equatorial Guinea had made millions of dollars in payments directly into more than 60 Riggs accounts held by Obiang, his family, and members of his government. Riggs was fined $25 million by the Treasury Department for "systematic violations" of money laundering laws. The accounts have been transferred to the Bank of Central Africa, a regional institution, where the money, still under Obiang's control, ostensibly is for infrastructure and other development projects.

Teodoro Nguema Obiang's modest salary as a minister in his father's government in Equatorial Guinea is £3,000 a month yet he is the proud owner of a Malibu 15,000 sq ft mansion with eight bathrooms, a pool and tennis courts worth probably $35 million (£18 million ). Not that he is short of places to stay , having earlier purchased two houses in Cape Town and a $2 million penthouse flat in California. Little Teodoro, as President Teodoro Obiang Nguema's son is known at home, appears to spend as little time as possible fulfilling his duties as the minister of agriculture and forestry in the west African state. Instead he flits between South Africa, France and the US, pursuing business ventures such as a failed rap label while acquiring property and a fleet of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bentleys .

And does the American government invoke a proclamation by President Bush nearly four years ago that bars corrupt foreign officials from entering the US and allows their assets to be seized ?

Not at all .

When it suits the interests of American capitalism , corrupt brutal dictators are greeted and welcomed as "our good friend"

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