November 19, 2003

Under the Radar - -

Just when they thought we weren't paying attention, "[t]o the dismay of human rights activists, Washington reopened its embassy on the [Equatorial Guinea's] capital of Malabo last month after an eight-year shutdown." This is a really nasty place, with a really nasty president, but the USX has decided to be friends again. Excerpt of MSNBC story:

The country is so poor that many of its people live off what fruit they can yank off trees and what meat they can kill in the forests. Commerce outside the capital is largely limited to hunters lining dirt roads, selling charred bush-meat on sticks.
Citing a U.N. human rights report that said 65 percent of people in the country were living in ''extreme poverty,'' Wykes said there was ''very little evidence the oil wealth has benefited the general population.''
It appears, in fact, only to be making [dictator] Obiang and his associates stronger.

War in Iraq has this commentary. Excerpt:

Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo, president of Equatorial Guinea:

"No. There's no deprivation either. No. You have to understand the level we're at in Guinea. The first problem is the people's cultural level. The people are used to living in a very different way, which you people think is poverty. In Guinea what we have are shortages."

The President says his country's oil revenue is a state secret. The World Bank says it's about $700,000m this year. Campaigning groups like Global Witness are calling for more transparency but the oil companies are as resistant to change as the government. It's not illegal, but they're reported to pay up to $50m per month into a Washington bank account. The President is the sole signatory . . .

And the ones who benefit are his family. His son Teodorino - Minister of Forests - loves Paris. In a video shown on French TV a few years ago, he was seen cruising in one of his two Bentleys. He also has Rolls, a Ferrari, and a Lamborghini, and that's just in France. He was on a shopping spree, with the then Ambassador to Paris. He buys no less than 30 personally tailored suits. No protest from the national treasury, maybe because it's run by another relative, his brother-in-law.

Later, Teodorino decides not to buy a watch, because none are encrusted with enough diamonds. His father, the President, has recently spent $3.5m on two mansions near Washington, using mortgages from the same Washington bank where the oil revenue goes.

Be at peace.