Wednesday, March 05, 2008

What Links Uribe, Exxon and Chevron?

Well, it would appear that they all intend to make hefty capital from the current war of words that is brewing in South America. Uribe, in particular, is desperate to re-assert his terrorist fighting credentials after Chavez's victorious negotiations to have four hostages released from captivity by the FARC. This has particularly hurt Uribe as he has allegedly been on the receiving end of some pretty harsh criticism by the hostages regarding his tactics. The problem for Uribe is that if you remove the terrorist threat you remove his reason to exist. He has no real interest in ensuring that hostages are returned safely and that a peace deal is brokered because, the longer the 'war' continues, the longer Uribe and his kind will be needed in power. Uribe was voted in because he is seen to be tough with the 'terrorists', with no 'terrorists' to fight, why would anyone vote for leaders of his kind? Thus Uribe has been humiliated by Chavez who achieved in a few weeks what Uribe was unable to achieve in six years. By painting Chavez as a friend to terrorists (and terrorists who are seeking a 'dirty bomb' no less), Uribe hopes to diminish his standing amongst Colombians and thus avert the possibility of a Chavez-esque leader emerging in Colombia (something not desired in Washington either).

As for Exxon, their reasons for wanting to see Chavez's reputation damaged in South America is obvious. Venezuela has been embarking on a massive programme of nationalisation and Exxon is not too keen on this development to say the least. To date, the oil giant has refused to enter into partnership with the Venezuelan government and has even gone to the extent of freezing the PDVSA's assets through a UK court. It is now arguing that this should go further and they are now insisting that it should get a global order from a U.K. court freezing $12 billion of Petroleos de Venezuela SA assets since a New York court doesn't have the power. Exxon clearly has much to gain from the 'link' between Chavez and 'terrorism' and the subsequent damage to his reputation that they hope this brings. So what of Chevron? What do they hope to achieve from this stand-off in South America?

Chevron is in the middle of a court battle in Ecuador revolving around the alleged dumping of 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest and abandoning of hundreds of open-air toxic waste pits in an area roughly the size of Rhode Island. This battle has become increasingly dirty as time has gone on. Chebron has repeatedly attacked the court-appointed special master who is preparing the damages assessment against the oil giant. Amongst the many allegations, Chevron are accused of:

.....personal harassment and an ad hominem advertising campaign, coinciding with the mysterious theft of case-related files from the court-appointed special master's office,according to the Amazon Defense Coalition, the organization that represents an estimated 30,000 plaintiffs in the case, including the members of five Amazon indigenous groups.

According to one lawyer on the case, Julio Prieto:

"Chevron is using extrajudicial influence to undermine the one independent expert who is preparing to tell the truth about Chevron's damages in Ecuador."

Cabrera has been the victim of a particularly vicious campaign of intimidation by Chevron. The attacks include:

...the purchase of full-page advertisements in Ecuadorian newspapers suggesting Cabrera is a criminal. Cabrera also has been stalked by a team of 25 Chevron lawyers and private
security agents while he does his fieldwork near Chevron's former production sites in the rainforest. Press releases put out by Chevron mock Cabrera for his middle name, "Stalin."

Most recently, Chevron has filed a motion with a separate Ecuadorian court seeking to depose Cabrera, an action which the plaintiffs consider illegal. Cabrera has also been the victim of a mysterious robbery of his office from where his files on the case were stolen.

Chevron's harassment became so grave that the trial judge ordered security agents to keep Chevron representatives away from Cabrera so he could complete his field work without interference or fear of intimidation.

These are the latest in a long line of examples of Chevron's disregard for the legal process in Ecuador:

The latest charges follow a series of incidents in 2005 and 2006 that called into question Chevron's commitment to a fair trial. These included the creation of a false military report written by Chevron lawyers claiming they were going to be kidnapped, death and kidnapping threats against community leaders active in the lawsuit, and the separate robbery of case-related materials from the law offices of Alejandro Ponce, who works with the plaintiffs.

Chevron also admitted in 2006 that it was making payments to Ecuadorian military officials in exchange for "protection" services during the trial. Several uniformed Ecuadorian soldiers have accompanied Chevron's lawyers to judicial inspection sites, carrying their bags and technical equipment while peering menacingly at members of the local population.

Clearly, an attempt by Colombia and the US to smear President Correa is in the interests of Chevron. By creating evidence that Correa is linked to terrorists in a neighboring South American country, public confidence in Correa will surely be damaged, allowing a more pliable leader to step forward and lead the way. When this is put into the context of recent events in Ecuador (only three presidents since 1979 have served a full-term in the country and the last three were overthrown), one can see that Chevron hope that Correa will be another Ecuadorean leader who fails to complete a full term.

I am not convinced that this confrontation is part of an attempt to launch a military strike on any of the left-leaning nations in South America. However, I am convinced that this is part of an attempt to smear the leaders of these countries and thus strengthen opposition movements in these countries. The US cannot afford another military front opening up and will avoid one at all costs (as will Colombia), their only real option is a political strike which appears very much on the table. Fox News has already been making explicit links between the government of Ecuador and the FARC, claiming that:

"Colombia said documents in Reyes' laptop also indicate that Ecuador' internal security minister met recently with a FARC envoy to discuss deepening relations with Ecuador, and even replacing military officers who might oppose that."

However, it has also emerged that (surprise, surprise) the documents that the Colombian government claims shows that the FARC intended to asssemble a 'dirty bomb', actually show nothing of the sort. From The Guardian:

Colombia said documents found at the base showed rebels wanted to make a radioactive dirty bomb. But the documents it shared with reporters didn't support the allegation, indicating instead that the rebels were trying to buy uranium to resell at a profit.

Still, make enough allegations of links to terror and, eventually, one will stick. One wonders how many other outrageous smears the Colombian government will come out with over the coming days and weeks.