Foreign Policy News Stories
Shell's Oil, Africa's Blood
In the wake of Nigeria's execution of nine environmental activists,
including Nobel Prize winner and leader of the Movement for the
Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ken Saro-Wiwa, evidence has
indicated that Shell has fomented civil unrest in Nigeria, contributed
to unfair trials, and failed to use its leverage to prevent the
unjustified executions. The executed activists were involved in
massive protests against Royal Dutch/Shell Group because of the
environmental devastation it has caused-particularly in Southern
Since the executions, Shell has also managed to keep the United
States media from informing the public of its actions.
Nigeria's government, under the dictatorship of General Sani
Abacha, derives 90 percent of its foreign revenue from oil exports.
The United States, home of Royal Dutch's subsidiary Shell Oil
Company, located in Houston, Texas, imports almost 50 percent
of Nigeria's annual oil production.
In October 1990, Nigerian villagers occupied part of a Shell
facility demanding compensation for the farm lands which had been
destroyed by Shell. A division manager at Shell Petroleum Development
Company called the Nigerian military for help. The military forces
then fired on the villagers, killing some 80 people and destroying
or badly damaging 495 homes. A Nigerian judicial inquiry later
concluded that the protest had been peaceful. The MOSOP was formed
after the massacre to continue protests against Shell. And while
Shell has denied having anything to do with the recent executions,
Dr. Owens Wiwa, Ken Saro-Wiwa's brother, reported that on three
occasions Brian Anderson, the managing director of Shell Petroleum
Development Co. in Nigeria, offered to make a deal with Wiwa:
Shell would try to prevent the executions if the activists would
call off their protests. Wiwa refused, and Shell did not intervene.
After international pleas for Shell's intervention, Shell
claimed that it was not-and would not- become involved in Nigeria's
political affairs. Internal documents uncovered by journalists
and human rights groups contradict this claim.
According to a report by Andy Rowell in the Village Voice
(November 21, 1995), there is evidence that Shell has been bankrolling
Nigerian military action against protesters and that two key prosecution
witnesses admitted in sworn affidavits that they were offered
bribes by Shell to unjustly incriminate Saro-Wiwa in his trial.
In response to these allegations, Shell has mounted an international
media campaign to combat negative publicity. Amnesty International
USA said the Houston Chronicle refused to run an ad which questioned
Shell's stance on human rights violations in Nigeria and that
three billboard companies, including Gannett Outdoor Co. Inc.,
also declined to sell space to the human rights organization.
U.S. Troops Exposed to Depleted Uranium During Gulf War
Depleted uranium (DU) weapons were used for the first time
in a war situation in the Persian Gulf in 1991 and were hailed
as a new and incredibly effective weapon by the Department of
Defense. Since the Manhattan Project of World War II, numerous
government studies have indicated that while DU weapons are highly
effective, they are still extremely toxic and need to be handled
with special precautionary tools and protective gear.
Although army training manuals were written in the 1980s to
warn tank crews and commanders of the dangers associated with
DU rounds, the Pentagon failed to warn Gulf War troops of the
dangers. The Defense Department did circulate a memo to Gulf War
commanders that contained three key points: any vehicle or system
struck by a DU penetrator can be assumed to be contaminated; personnel
should avoid entering contaminated areas; and, if troops must
enter contaminated areas, they should wear protective clothing.
Unfortunately, this memo was written on March 7, 1991, eight days
after the firing of weapons ceased in the Persian Gulf.
Without this knowledge, and without the necessary protective
clothing, the 144th Army National Guard Service and Supply Company
was allowed to perform DU battlefield cleanup for three weeks
in Kuwait and southern Iraq, where the U.S. Army fired at least
14,000 rounds (or 40 tons) of DU ammunition.
The Department of Energy possesses over 500,000 tons of DU
that has been accumulating since the Manhattan Project. Billions
of dollars have been spent by the U.S. government to find a final
dumpsite for the radioactive waste, but other nations, as well
as communities in Maine and New Mexico have resisted the efforts
to dump the DU waste in their areas. The use of this weaponry
in the Persian Gulf, then, served two purposes. It eliminated
enemy troops and weapons and disposed of tens or even hundreds
of tons of the radioactive DU on the Persian Gulf battlefields.
The effects of depleted uranium exposure, however, are just
beginning to be known. DU has now been linked to many illnesses,
including the mysterious "Gulf War Syndrome." Despite
widespread concern among Gulf War vets and in U.S. communities
about the dangers of DU weapons, the Pentagon, the Department
of Energy, and military defense contractors are all excited about
the sales potential of DU weapons as well as the transfer of DU
to allies for their own weapons production. According to Nuclear
Regulatory Commission shipment records, steady transfers- amounting
to several million pounds of DU-have been flowing to U.S. allies
over the past decade, with Britain, France, and Canada being the
Dark Alliance: Tuna Free Trade, and Cocaine
If recent history is any guide at all, one can only conclude
that President Clinton's free trade policies have been immensely
valuable to drug smuggling cartels based in Italy, Colombia, Venezuela,
and Mexico. The ongoing dolphin-safe tuna debate sharply illustrates
U.S. indifference to the problem of international drug trafficking.
According to the Administration's own Drug
Enforcement Agency (DEA), approximately 90 percent of the
worldwide flow of cocaine and heroin is transported and maintained
by fishing fleets-with Mexico as one of the most successful traffickers.
By the late 1980s, the Mexican fleet, with 70 big boats, dominated
smuggling operations. The country's boats and canneries were privatized-with
tuna industry shares divided up between prominent Mexicans in
the ruling PRI party.
In the early 1990s, legislation for dolphin-safe standards
on tuna fishing closed the lucrative U.S. and western European
tuna markets to Mexican, Venezuelan, and Colombian fleets that
continued to use the outlawed "purse-seine net" technique.
As a result, the Mexican fleet began to shrink, thus limiting
their overall smuggling capacity. In the fall of 1995, Mexican
President Ernesto Zedillo came to Washington for talks with President
Clinton. During these talks, Zedillo raised the specter of a World
Trade Organization complaint about the Mexican tuna ban. President
Clinton assured him that U.S. domestic legislation would solve
the problem more prudently.
On May 8, 1996, the Clinton Administration's legislative reversal
of the ban cleared the House Resource Committee. With this passing,
the Mexican tuna fleet, owned by narcotraffickers and high-ranking
Mexican officials, is expected, once again, to expand.
As critics of the Clinton Administration's policy have noted,
Mexico has become so dependent on the hard currency it receives
from drug trafficking that any significant crackdown on its narcotics
cartels would jeopardize economic recovery, and further deterioration
of Mexico's economy would hurt NAFTA, destabilize Mexican politics,
and increase immigration.
Today, with the help of NAFTA and tuna boat drug smuggling,
Mexico has become one of the most important countries of legal
trade- and illegal drug trafficking-across the U.S. border. And
the free trade agreements will continue to be a boon for the world's
drug smuggling cartels because of the relaxed inspection of commercial
cross-border traffic between Mexico and the U.S. In addition,
liberalized international banking rules have made it easier to
launder billions in drug revenues.