Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Darfur update - "Financing Mass Murder" by Nat Hentoff (Village Voice)

The veteran progressive journalist Nat Hentoff has been involved for several years with activists campaigning against slavery in southern Sudan. Recently he has been writing about the ongoing atrocity in western Sudan as well. This is a timely piece.

Incidentally, I think it would be too simple and reductionist to argue (which Hentoff does not) that the unwillingness of countries like China, Russia, and France to take any serious action against the Darfur atrocity can be entirely explained by their economic interests in Sudanese oil. There are a lot of other political and diplomatic factors involved, too. However, these economic interests are certainly an important part of the picture. And Hentoff's piece once again brings out the unhappy truth that, in more cases than not, oil resources are a curse rather than a blessing for the countries with the oil. Like diamonds in west Africa and Angola, these natural-resource bonanzas are often more likely to fund despotism, corruption, and/or civil war than to support development.

Jeff Weintraub

Village Voice
October 8, 2004

Liberty Beat
by Nat Hentoff
Financing Mass Murder
How free-market investors contribute to genocide in Darfur while they take the profits
October 8th, 2004 4:25 PM

Sudan's oil reserves yield two billion dollars in annual revenue . . . —Samantha Power The New Yorker, August 30, 2004

For six years, the most passionate, meticulous researcher on the atrocities committed on black Africans in Sudan by the Khartoum government has been Eric Reeves, a professor of English at Smith College in Massachusetts. With prodigious energy, he devotes most of his time to writing about this holocaust and informing others, including me.

In a recent study, Reeves focuses on "the many European and Asian companies that are now propping up the Khartoum regime by means of large commercial investments and capital projects," and as a result, becoming accomplices in genocide.

Among the most resistant members of the United Nations Security Council to placing truly punitive sanctions on Sudan's oil industry is China.

"The dominant and most ruthless international player in Sudan's oil sector," Reeves writes, is "China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). After Goldman Sachs failed in 2000 to secure a $10 billion Initial Public Offering for CNPC, the Wall Street firm created a so-called financial 'cut-out,' which became the new entity 'PetroChina.' . . . Wholly controlled and 90 percent owned by CNPC, it lists on the New York Stock Exchange." (Emphasis added.)

The companies of other nations, in addition to China, that invest in Sudan "accept payment [from Khartoum] in the form of Khartoum's petrodollars—revenues raised from oil development projects located almost exclusively in southern Sudan . . . "

When you read about Khartoum's helicopters bombing villages in Darfur as a prelude to the murderous raids by the Arab Janjaweed, who are often accompanied by official Khartoum troops, you may not have realized that, as Eric Reeves continues:

"Khartoum's extensive military purchases, especially over the last half-dozen years, have been made possible by virtue of realized and anticipated oil revenues. These purchases include many of the helicopter gunships that have been deployed to such deadly effect against civilians in both southern Sudan and Darfur. A measure of the profligacy of Khartoum's military purchases can be seen in the recent completion of a deal with Russia for 10 MiG-29s—one of the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world."

At the United Nations' so-called Security Council, Russia, like China, has been very reluctant to put enough pressure on Khartoum to stop the murdering and raping of black Africans in Darfur. Not surprisingly, Eric Reeves discloses, "Russia's Tatneft is an important participant in Sudan's oil sector (and also lists on the New York Stock Exchange)." (Emphasis added.)

And the New York Stock Exchange—oblivious to the more than 50,000 black Africans murdered, and the more than 10,000 dying every month of disease and Janjaweed violence in the refugee camps—also lists Germany's giant Siemens AG. That company, Reeves writes, is "presently building outside Khartoum the world's largest diesel-powered electrical generating plant . . .

"It is this presence," Reeves emphasizes, "that does so much to sustain the National Islamic Front and convince the regime that ultimately petrodollars speak louder than the cries of death and suffering in Darfur." (Emphasis added.) Sudan's oil reserves bring Khartoum $2 billion in annual revenues.

An enduring memory of my boyhood was the headline on a magazine: "Would You Do Business With Hitler?" Many companies, including American corporations, saw no problems in trafficking with the Third Reich. It's happening now with the genocidal Khartoum government.

Among other partners in Khartoum and its killing fields, Reeves adds, are "Switzerland's ABB Ltd. (also listed on the New York Stock Exchange), now engaged in a huge project to upgrade the electrical grid for Khartoum and the surrounding urban areas, as well as in automation work for the major oil production consortium in Sudan, the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company."

Nor should we ignore "France's Alcatel, a telecommunications giant . . . yet another company that both lists on the New York Stock Exchange and offers commercial telecommunications support that benefits Khartoum."

Until Eric Reeves sent me this current analysis of multinational financing of Khartoum's genocidal government, I didn't know—nor have I seen this in the media—that "bipartisan legislation recently introduced in the House of Representatives . . . would legally require disclosure of 'the identities of all entities that are engaged in commercial activity in Sudan' (Section 5 [a] of H.R. 5061, 'To provide assistance for the current crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan and to facilitate a comprehensive peace in Sudan')."

The co-sponsors of the bill are: Trent Franks, Republican of Arizona; Tom Lantos, Democrat of California; Donald Payne, Democrat of New Jersey; Joe Pitts, Republican of Pennsylvania; Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado.

In next week's column, details of Eric Reeves's plan: "A successful divestment campaign against these companies, and their ethically myopic investments, would bring real, unsustainable economic pressure to bear on Khartoum . . .

"Its single goal would be to force a commitment by such companies to suspend all commercial activities pending the end of genocidal destruction in Darfur and completion of a final peace agreement with the people of the south." (Emphasis added.)

And there will be ways in which many of you, individually, can become part of this divestment campaign. Says Reeves: "The time has come for ordinary citizens to make it impossible for this intransigently genocidal regime to enjoy the economic benefits of European and Asian commercial and economic support. Divestment from the equity (shares) of the most culpably guilty of these transnational companies is a moral imperative." More to come, specifically on those American institutions that profit by investing in the monstrous government in Sudan.