The Curse of Black Gold

In the Gulf of Mexico, Americans play the victim, even as they are the villains in Africa.

If the oil spill crisis in the Gulf were a movie, “The Curse of Black Gold” would be the perfect title. And if Tony Hayward, BP’s CEO, weren’t the most hated character in history, he could have been played by Peter Lorre, while the secondary actor, Humphrey Bogart, could have been Obama. Exit Bogart; enter Denzel Washington. Americans love to live and talk as if in the movies when the cameras and the spotlight are on. The kindest example is the show that Hayward put on while explaining the situation to an audience of opinionated Democrats and Republicans, who were excited to unload their wrath on a scapegoat. Hayward was accused, blamed and judged, just as in any script of American public drama. Seeing and hearing these people screaming alerts us that America, when furious, is capable of many evils, just like a little kid when contradicted.

With great voracity, Americans want and desire oil for their SUVs, Hummers and Escalades. And they want oil at any price, by any means possible, including invading countries in the Middle East, pressuring dictators, promoting spurious alliances, triggering “freedom” guerrillas and practicing a foreign policy with crude as the symbol of American interests. The Pentagon serves oil, and oil is the base of the most powerful and profitable global corporation: Exxon Mobil, headquartered in Irving, Texas. Another example is PetroChina, though it would be interesting to imagine what could happen to the planet if the Chinese started buying king-sized cars. All of this, just so American citizens can fill up their big cars with gallons and gallons of gasoline, at any cost — which, in reality, comes at a high price if we also think about the military costs of obtaining the product.

America authorized offshore drilling in its own territory, including the Gulf of Mexico, and authorized drilling to great depths underwater, where men could neither work nor reach. As planned, if Palin and McCain had won, the drilling would have also taken place in Alaska and the Arctic. If you ever go to Texas or California, you can see the rusty pumps of oil extraction from the streets, in fields and backyards. Where there is oil, there is drilling.

But when a disaster of this magnitude takes place, America drops its white gloves and shakes the water off its raincoat. It is understandable that these people in the Gulf see the oil spill as a threat to their way of life, and why not develop hatred toward BP? It’s obvious that there would have been no better behavior for BP during this crisis than to accept that the moral hypocrisy of the Congress and the White House was a step that shouldn’t have been taken. What happened, happened. Whoever authorized the exploitation should have moderated the greed, and inspected, regulated and supervised the operation to make sure no such disaster would happen. We found out that BP did not have a Plan B. Did America have a Plan B? No, nobody had a Plan B, and Hayward limited himself to announcing that “everything failed.”

While the worst ecological disaster in American history takes place, it is only right to also remember those in Nigeria, in the rainforests of Ecuador and in Indonesia, among other places. Exxon Mobil, in conjunction with its colleague, Chevron, has committed numerous environmental crimes against the tribes and communities around its areas of exploration and has also contributed to disasters superior to the one in the Gulf.

In Ecuador, 18 billion gallons of post-residual toxic water were dumped in the rainforest, destroying the ecosystem. The cost of the cleanup after Ecuador’s legal case? $27 billion. In Indonesia, too, Exxon Mobil has committed environmental crimes and has been involved in the violation of human rights. In collusion with the local security forces and corrupt officials, they imprison and kill anyone who opposes exploration.

The same happens in the Niger Delta, where alliances between oil companies and the corrupt Nigerian government lead to the repression of people whose livelihoods, fisheries and farms have been affected by their criminal acts, and who are living in the midst of flames and toxic spills throughout their landscapes. There are contaminated rivers, dead trees, and poisoned waters, animals and people. The profits of oil do not reach these tribes — only poverty and destitution. The repressed groups, even including MEND, an armed group that fights for the cleanup of the Niger Delta and the end of exploitation, are paid in petrodollars.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Americans clamor for revenge and play the part of the victims. In Africa and in the rest of the world, they support the unseen villain.

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