May 27, 2009


This is a very old story: we need things, a company provides, we don't give much thought about how those things get to us, we just consume them, we feel happy. That's how bananas entered the USA during the 20th century, through United Fruit Company, a multinational that in order to keep its power in Central America supported some of the most horrifying dictatorships in the area, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica... all to provide us with things we learn to need.

So, where is the oil to power your car or your AC coming from today? From places like Nigeria -the 8% of the total US imports come from there, it is also the 4th provider of oil for Spain- Nigeria is the tenth most petroleum-rich nation worldwide. Almost twenty years ago an activist movement grew out in that country against Shell for appropriating land and polluting the air and water in the Ogoni homeland, an indigenous area around the Niger Delta region of southeast Nigeria, where most of the oil reserves land. According to Amnesty International 70% of the six million people in the Niger River Delta live off of less than 1$ US per day. The leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) was the author Ken Saro-Wiwa, who led a non-violent campaign against the environmental degradation of the area and against the corruption of the Nigerian government, at the time ruled by ruthless Sani Abacha.

In 1993, following protests that were designed to stop contractors from laying a new pipeline for Shell, the army raided the area and destroyed 27 villages, resulting in the death of 2,000 Ogoni people and displacement of 80,000. Saro-Wiwa was arrested along with eight activists that two years later were sentenced to death by a military tribunal. The execution provoked international outrage but it was quickly forgotten: everybody still consumes Nigerian oil pumped among others by Shell (on and off because of continuous attacks of its oil plants), and actually, the area is still immersed in a violent war that nobody wants to call 'war'. In the last few days this no-war has taken a very ugly turn:

After 13 years, a trial against Shell (now Royal Dutch Shell) was supposed to start this week in Manhattan federal court with a lawsuit by three alleged victims of attacks and relatives of seven activists killed from 1990 to 1995, including the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa. The plaintiffs claim Shell’s Nigerian unit assisted the government in the abuse and murder of opponents of the company’s operations in the Niger Delta. (here a link in Spanish)

The trial was once again postponed until June 2. It seems Royal Dutch Shell didn't like the idea of having powerful human rights attorney Paul Hoffman counseling the plaintiffs. Actually, they complained that Hoffman's company harbors a video that it is not to there liking. The judge refused to ban Hoffman from the trial but asked the website to remove the video. Thanks to 21st century technology, it's very difficult to hide things from public view:

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