Oil: the impunity lessons.
Eduardo Galeano

1.The hung writer. The oil companies Shell and Chevron they have devastated the delta of the Niger river. The writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, of Nigeria's ogoni people, denounced it in a published book in 1992: "What Shell and Chevron have made to the ogoni people, to their lands and to their rivers, to their creeks, to their atmosphere, arrives at the level of a genocide. The soul of the ogoni people is dying and I am its witness".

Three years later, at the beginning of 1995, the general manager of Shell in Nigeria, Naemeka Achebe, explained in this way the support of his company to the military dictatorship that squeezes his country: "For a comercial company that proposes to accomplish investments, it's necessary a stability environment... Dictatorships offer that". Some months afterwards, at the end of the 95, the Nigeria dictatorship hung Ken Saro-Wiwa. The writer was executed together with other eight ogonis, also guilty of fighting against the companies that have annihilated their villages and has reduced their lands to a vast barren. And many other had been murdered before by the same motive.

The prestige of Saro-Wiwa gave to this crime international resonance. The United States president declared then that his country would suspended the weapons supply to Nigeria, and the world applauded it. The statement was not read as an involuntary confession, though it was: the United States president was recognizing that his country had been selling weapons to the carniverous regime of General Sani Abacha, that was executing people with a rate of one hundred persons by year, in executions or hangings converted into public spectacles.

An international embargo prevented later that no country signed new contracts of weapons sale to Nigeria, but Abacha's dictatorship continued multiplying its arsenal thanks to the previous contracts and to the addendas that were added by miracle, as youth elÝxirs, so that those old contracts had eternal life.

United States sells about half of the weapons of the world and purchase near half of the oil that consummates. From the weapons and from the oil depend, to a large extent, its economy and its life style. Nigeria, the African dictatorship that more money destines for the military expenses, it's an oil country. The anglo-dutch company Shell carries the half; but the American Chevron rips off to Nigeria more than the fourth part of all the oil and gas that exploits in the twenty-two countries where it operates.

2.- The price of the poison. Nnimmo Bassey, Ken Saro-Wiwa's compatriot, visited Latin American lands the year after the assassination of his struggle friend and companion. In his trip daily, reports instructive histories about the oil giants and theirs unpunished devastations.

In Curašao, in front of the Venezuela's beaches, Shell erected in 1918 a great refinery, that since then throws poisonous smokes over the small island. In 1983, the local authorities ordered stop. Without including the prejudices to the health of the inhabitants, experts estimated in 400 million of dollars the minimum compensation that the company had to pay so that the refinery continued operating.

Shell did not pay anything, and on the other hand bought immunity at an infantile fable price: they sold their refinery to the Curašao government, in one dollar, through an agreement that released the company of any responsibility by the damages that it had inflicted to the environment in all its fucked history.

3.- The blue butterfly. The impunity is the most cheap product of any other one offered in the international market.

In 1994, the oil company Chevron (before called Standard Oil of California) spent million of dollars, lots of it, in an advertising campaign that was exalting their sleeplessnesss by the environment in United States. The campaign was centered in the protection that the company was offering to a little blue butterfly that was in extinction danger. The refuge for the little blue butterflies was costing Chevron five thousand annual dollars, that it's eighty times less than the production cost of a minute of the propaganda that was praising the environmental vocation of the company, without counting the much greater price of the emission time of this advertising bombardment in the screens of the USA.

The little blue butterflies that were flapping in the screens had found affectionate household in the refinery El Segundo, in the sands of southern Los Angeles. And nobody, neither the own company, denies that this Chevron refinery is one of the worse sources of the pollution of water, air and all the California land.


Most recent revision: May 19, 2002