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Did Ezra Levant See the Light?

Ethical Oil shill calls Chiquita terrorist, exhibits concern for corporate subversion of democracy

by Macdonald Stainsby

Did Ezra Levant See the Light?
Satellite view of December 20, 2011 Shell oil spill in the Niger Delta
Satellite view of December 20, 2011 Shell oil spill in the Niger Delta

Macdonald Stainsby

December 22, 2011

Finally, Ezra Levant is almost on the same side as me. I am finding it mind-boggling, in fact. Here we have someone who has often positioned himself as a cozy lover of all that corporations do-- seeing the light and admitting that when giant, foreign owned corporations (we can get to domestic ones another time) dominate a countries economic landscape, they not only also dominate its political landscape, but that this can lead to some of the most horrific human rights abuses on the planet. Don't take my word for it, here is what Levant had to say himself about Chiquita Banana's, the former United Fruit:

 

It was such a corrupt company that the countries in which it operated literally became "banana republics" - they were undermined democratically and became mere arms of the company itself. The rule of law, treatment of workers, civil rights all were subverted to the will of the United Fruit Company. We don't call them pineapple republics; we don't call them tomato republics. We call them banana republics, because of Chiquita banana.

Their terrorism fine shows that, as recently as 2007, their corporate DNA was still hard-wired to be unethical.”

 

Wow! And to say how strongly I agree with this sentiment would still be an understatement. In fact, on the day of the nationalization of every foreign owned enterprize in Cuba back in 1961, Fidel read out the long list of corporations to an adoring crowd, sick of how corporate plunder had treated them as slaves for decades under not only Fulgencio Batista. They listed everyone-- including a couple of American oil companies, but it was when Fidel said “United Fruit” (with a lilt of joy in his voice that every Cuban assembled recognized immediately), that the crowd truly went ecstatic with joy. The exploitation of United Fruit, just as Levant states, had denied them their basic humanity and had led to a full-blown revolution. When United Fruit, now Chiquita bananas, was expelled from Cuba the people knew that this revolution was going to be more than mere words.

 

However, corporate crushing of democracy and human rights is not limited to tropical fruits. If it is the over-all denial of basic human dignity we are to be aghast at, then we must surely look to many countries around the world-- and let us not go back to 1961 in Cuba, or even 2007 in the case of the terrorism charges described with perhaps wrongly motivated but definitely accurate righteous anger by Levant. Let's look to Nigeria, today. It's an English company I want to talk about, and it's another phenomenon even more deadly to the populations of the world than Banana Republics-- the petro-state.

 

Royal Dutch Shell-- who have now complete control over what used to be the Canadian arm of Shell-- operates in Nigeria and has done so in the Niger Delta for decades. Shell operates in many, many places around the world, but let's get right into it on the exact list of grievances brought out by Levant:

“...undermined democratically and became mere arms of the company itself...”

 

In the last year, after decades of struggle by Nigerians (who were colonized by the country where Shell is from, England, until just over half a century ago), mostly in the disenfranchised South of the country, the first relatively free and fair elections were held-- and in those elections, only pro-business candidates ran safely and for the first time a southern candidate won, but his credentials as a means for change have been called into question many times over. Why is this? Because the very same corporations-- and in Nigeria this always begins and ends with Shell-- that have destroyed the Niger Delta, that have been a part of financing the state's apparatus of keeping the poor and disenfranchised poor and disenfranchised-- were coddled with promises of continued cheap and full access to the population's oil irregardless of who was the winner of the election.

In fact, only two days ago, on Tuesday, December 20, 2011 Shell admitted to a major spill-- right in the same Niger Delta-- of at minimum 40 000 barrels of oil. What would happen if Chiquita were to spill 40 000 barrels of bananas all over the roads of Canada's highways while driving from city to city? Perhaps a flock of seagulls may gather, but I doubt that thousands of fish would die and threaten the ecosystem in the same manner. But what of control over the government? Has Nigeria ever succumbed to pressure from Shell to do their bidding, in the words of Levant, “become mere arms of the company itself?”

 

Rather than make this short rebuttal into a historical essay, let me shorten part of the story. Shell-- the same company operating one of the largest mines and numerous in-situ operations in the Albertan tar sands-- had been operating for many years in the Niger Delta when local indigenous peoples called the Ogoni began to resist in the early 1990's. The military government of Nigeria at the time took direction and acted directly in concert with Shell-- again the same Shell working on the Albian Sands mine as well as elsewhere in the tar sands-- to repress the peaceful resistance movement through murders, beatings and politically motivated rapes. By 1994, Ogoni resistance leader Ken Saro Wiwa was decidedly in the crosshairs of both Shell and the Nigerian government. Then, the following happened:

 

In 1994, Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni leaders were prevented by the military from attending a gathering; at that very gathering, four Ogoni chiefs were killed. The military governor promptly announced that Ken Saro-Wiwa caused the deaths, and he and other leaders were taken into custody.

 

[...]

 

A three-man tribunal was created by the Nigerian government to try the Ogoni leaders —known as the “Ogoni Nine”– for the murders of the four chiefs. The tribunal denied the Ogoni Nine access to counsel, a fair trial, and the opportunity to appeal the decision. During the course of the trial they were tortured and mistreated, as were their relatives. The Ogoni Nine were convicted and were executed by hanging on November 10, 1995. [including Wiwa]

 

During his closing statement at his kangaroo court proceeding, Wiwa concluded in part with this:

 

The military dictatorship holds down oil-producing areas such as Ogoni by military decrees and the threat or actual use of physical violence so that Shell can wage its ecological war without hindrance… This cozy, if criminal, relationship was perceived to be rudely disrupted by the non-violent struggle of the Ogoni people...”

 

Geez, sorry to sound a little stunned, but if it's ethical corporations Levant wants, certainly Shell is not it, right? Now, what of his other complaints about Chiquita/United Fruit? The Ezreasoning goes to state:

 

The rule of law, treatment of workers, civil rights all were subverted to the will of the United Fruit Company.”

 

Yet on the well documented website http://wiwavshell.org/the-case-against-shell/ where you can get a lot more detail about Shell's practices in Nigeria, we hear the following:

 

Shell continued its close relationship with the Nigerian military regime during the early 1990s. The oil company requested an increase in security and provided monetary and logistical support to the Nigerian police. Shell frequently called upon the Nigerian police for “security operations” that often amounted to raids and terror campaigns against the Ogoni.”

 

Sounds like a perfect echo of a United Fruit Banana Republic style dictatorship, doesn't it? But all of this, you may be thinking, only goes to prove the talk about “conflict oil” of Mr Levant and his desire to see a place where human rights are respected and companies never do things like this-- you know, utterly trample on the rights of indigenous peoples. Why then, did the following release get issued only mere days ago by members and leaders of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation-- from Fort Chipewyan in Alberta, downstream of the tar sands mines?

 

To quote from a press release titled: “Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation opposes Shell’s proposed project,”

 

We hope the JRP will respect our unique rights and implement our recommendations and not let Shell slide through the approval process without addressing our concerns,” stated Chief Adam. “We will no longer stand on the side lines as Shell permanently destroys our lands, our rivers, our rights and our community.”

Chief Adam’s comments come only weeks after ACFN served Shell Canada with a lawsuit for unfulfilled terms of agreements regarding existing tar sands mines. The agreements were meant to ensure Shell would provide a number of measures to lessen the impact of these mines on ACFN. The community asserts that Shell’s current operations are already threatening the environment and the communities way of life and plan to oppose Shell’s two new tar sands mines until all past and future concerns are addressed.

 

Wait a minute, this sound like conflict-- and it sounds like conflict between Shell and indigenous peoples in Canada, who will further lose their livelihoods, waterways, etc should the developments that Shell wants to undertake proceed. It all doesn't sound at all ethical, and it sure sounds like the corporation from England wants to go ahead with development regardless of what local interests say. I know the Queen is still on Canadian money, but isn't it a foreign company? So let me quote Levant, accurately, though deliberately out of his context:

 

This isn't the first time that a foreign company has tried to pull itself up by pulling Canada down.”

 

Meanwhile the stakes for ending all of these corporations-- from United Fruit to Shell and many, many others-- from subverting the will of the people, destroying water supplies, taking over the governments through money and using them to crush indigenous resistance is actually getting even more complicated and convoluted. Nigeria, ever the petroleum equivalent of a banana republic, has now opened up blocs for bidding to the west of the Niger Delta where tar sands bitumen deposits exist. Apparently not satisfied with the destruction of the Niger Delta and fish there, the eco-destroy and democracy polluting practices of Canada's tar sands may be about to export to Nigeria and a whole new region of indigenous people will live under threat. That is, of course, if we are not able to reach out and warn our brothers and sisters in Nigeria that something even worse than what is being done in the Delta is coming.

 

Levant finally put the discussion where it belongs. About what real democracy looks like, whether corporations (I'd add local or international) have the best interests of local inhabitants, especially pesky indigenous peoples who tend to want to do things like protect the environment they have lived with for time immemorial, are to be trusted. Surely the terrorism charges brought upon Chiquita could be applied to multiple oil companies. We haven't even scratched the surface of BP or TOTAL, for instance. Can anyone say Exxon? I knew you could!

 

Let us hold Levant to his refreshing narrative. If he wants to take corporate crimes of terrorism seriously, not just as a ploy for people he shills for to make himself both rich and infamous, then this will be a welcome change and we can all get to bringing to account the criminals and terrorists that sit in the boardrooms of all the major energy companies in the world. Hey, did anyone reading this know that Suncor Energy was operating in Libya recently, both before and after the fall of Qaddafi? I'm just saying, terror charges and financing of wars are serious things. They are crimes of terror and we ought to take Levants concern over what is ethical business practice seriously. So let's do it, whether he does or not.

 

 


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