This week, it was announced that human rights activists are suing Exxon for a long history of horrendous human rights abuses, both direct and indirect, which have occurred in Indonesia in the Aceh region where the company has operated a liquid natural gas plant for decades. Here is a chilling commentary on the background of this case and how the brutal modus operandi of the big fuel corporations is now, in a diluted form, beginning to take root, through the Bush administration, on our own soil.
ExxonMobil’s Dirty Little War
By Cheryl Seal
The author takes full responsibility for the content of the following article and all of the facts, opinions and implications that it contains
ExxonMobil’s liquid natural gas (LNG) production facility (PT Arun) in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia (an area known as Lhokseumawe in the district of North Aceh) was originally owned by Mobil Oil Indonesia. As soon as the company identified the rich LNG reserves in the forests and cut a deal with the Indonesian state fuel company Pertamina, it seized a huge tract of land and summarily displace all of the resident natives. It is a scenario that has repeated itself following countless oil/gas discoveries in the past, from Oklahoma to Africa. However, to Mobil’s dismay, the Aceh people were committed to throwing off domination by exploitive foreign interests and the corrupt Suharto government that was so eager to aid the exploitation.
In response to the Aceh resistance, the military, acting on behalf of Mobil, beat down the opposition with a brutal fist. For example, when a handful of Achel rebels tried to sabotage a gas pipeline in 1977, the military systematically killed an estimated 900 natives. When the Aceh freedom movement GAM (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka) was officially launched in 1980, Aceh was promptly placed under military occupation. From the start, Mobil (and now ExxonMobil), has supported and condoned the military’s atrocities. Many such crimes have, in fact, been committed on the company’s own land, by ”security officers” on the company’s payroll. Mobil built two military barracks for the elite security division the Indonesian military sent them to protect the LNG facility.: Post 13 and Camp Rancong. According to eyewitness reports recounted to human rights investigators, Post 13 was on at least one occasion used as a torture/interrogation facility.
Since 1980, hundreds of Aceh natives have been murdered and/or tortured or have disappeared. An estimated 15,000-20,000 children have been orphaned during this same period as a direct result of Mobil’s “protective forces.” The company’s operation of the LNG facility has taken a direct toll on the quality of human life and the integrity of the environment. The company repeatedly contaminated the crucial rice paddies or shrimp farms the villagers relied on for food. Not once did the company offer fair compensation for these transgressions. In fact, in 1992, when the village of Pu’uk sued the company for contamination of its land, Mobil marched out its high-powered battery of lawyers and (surprise, surprise!) defeated the poor villagers. In 1997, 1,600 villagers were displaced when LNG wells erupted, dumping tons of contaminated mud on their homes. In another case, four villagers sued the company for seizing their land without adequate compensation and for taking over a village cemetery for use as an airstrip for PT Arun. Of course, once again, the villagers lost their case. The list of egregious violations (the same terminology recently applied to Exxon by a lawyer in Alabama when the company recently lost a $3.4 billion fraud case) of human rights and environmental ethics perpetrated by Mobil, Exxon, and ExxonMobil is astounding. This is supposed to be an American company…Hell, this is supposed to be the 20th/21st century!
Any protestors against this reign of terror are treated viciously. Of course, Mobil and ExxonMobil have claimed total ignorance of such abuses, despite repeated complaints, despite the fact that Mobil (ExxonMobil) pays the military millions of dollars each year for the use of the military, despite the fact that their own earth-moving equipment has been used to dig mass graves and its roads have been used as regular routes for transporting prisoners and bodies. Mass graves dug with Mobil equipment were identified at Sentag Hill and Tengkorak (Skull) Hill in North Aceh in 1998 by human rights investigators. Bottom line: the company is ultimately in complete control of the situation, as was clearly pointed up by the chaos their recent suspension of production caused.
It was in 1998, during the increasing controversy over Mobil’s activities that Exxon and Mobil merged, becoming ExxonMobil. Now, to the outside world, especially to the U.S., which, alas, rarely pays attention to the details of what is happening beyond its own borders, the name “ExxonMobil” would seem like a whole new horse of a different color. As a “nice touch,” around the same time, Exxon started pushing its touchy-feely “we’re so good to the environment” Save the Tiger PR campaign (how could these nice people ever do those awful things the Aceh accuse them of?). The company has recently also donated millions of dollars to malaria research. So self-sacrificing! Especially, since malaria will be a major problem and (God forbid!) expense for the company as it deploys workers into new unexploited mosquito-laden forests in Indonesia. But a look through the company’s history reveals one clear point: this monster does nothing that is not completely motivated from self-interest.
In any case, the merger hasn’t abated the carnage centered around the North Aceh facility. Last year, a human rights worker named Jafar Siddiq Hamzah, who was born in Aceh and lived for a while in Queens, NY, began receiving death threats after he started investigating Mobil’s transgressions. Soon after, he was kidnapped. A month later, his tortured, mutilated body was found, along with those of four other human rights workers. Within days of this tragedy, Safwan Idris, a promising candidate for Aceh governor, was found murdered as well. Human rights investigators have condemned the company and the U.S. for their complicity, direct or indirect, in the bloodbaths. Indonesian Democracy Japan has asserted that the U.S. “by association, is guilty of major human rights violations.” No wonder they don’t want us on the UN human rights commission.
But human rights apparently pale in comparison to the stakes for which Mobil and the Indonesian government are playing. Through the 1990s, one-fourth of all Mobil’s global revenue came from the North Aceh facility. One corporate VP calls the facility “the jewel in the company’s crown.” If so, it is like the gory Hope diamond. Meanwhile, the Indonesian government scoops in an estimated $2 billion per year from the plant.
Things have, if one can imagine it, gotten worse in the past year and a half. On October 20, 1999, Wahid was elected the new President of Indonesia by the People’s Consultiuve Assembly (not by the PEOPLE, mind you). Almost immediately, Wahid sought to pass legislation to release foreign firms like ExxonMobil from regulatory approval requirements. Then, on February 28, 2000, just four months after being named Pres., Wahid appointed Henry Kissinger, one of the original authors of the nation’s ongoing woes, as his advisor. On the same day, in fact the same hour (undoubtedly because the two things are so intimately intertwined), Wahid announced half a dozen new appointments to Pertanima and the mineral industry - an industry close to Indonesian gold mine majority stock holder Kissinger’s “heart” (or the black hole where one may once have been).
All sorts of deadly games are being played out now, games which, since Bush was elected, have become increasingly more vicious.
Let’s back track and look at these games. In March of 2000, a US embassy report states that LNG gas fields in Northern Sumatra are being played out and that by 2001, some production will be discontinued. The same report mentions major new LNG and oil projects that are being planned for other areas, including Irian Jaya (the same area where Kissinger’s mine is located). In addition, U.S. interests have expressed their intention to double coal output in Sumatra in the next five years.
Now, put those pieces and recent developments together and what you come up with is truly Machiavellian. Here’s how the game goes:
First, you create a crisis in the LNG situation in North Aceh by making it appear that terrorists are escalating and threatening the security of the energy supply. (Hey, blaming terrorists worked for Kissinger and the CIA in 1966 to get rid of Suharno, in Timor in 1975, in Chile, in the Congo, in Bangladesh…it’s a great scam). But better make sure the U.S. government doesn’t step in and muck things up.
Second, start threatening higher energy prices
Third, shut down your LNG operation and scream about needing more security, while keeping your eye on other places you’d REALLY like to exploit, like the waters off North Aceh where a rich oil reserve has been found. Almost no one but you knows your Aceh facility is on the way out anyway.
Fourth, play the terrorism card to its end and stand aside wringing your hands as rebels are massacred, thereby daunting any other rebels who might try to make life difficult for you in other areas you plan to exploit.
Just like clockwork, the above scenario has unfolded. In February and March, 2001, ExxonMobil began complaining of escalating terrorism by GAM. GAM, on the other hand, which has never had any trouble claiming credit for its incursions against the military or Mobil when they WERE guilty, denies the charges. In early March, Exxon security claims an Aceh rebel lobbed a hand gredande into the facility – mysteriously, I could find no record or a death or injury from this “attack.” Tengku Sofyan Daud, deputy of GAM, was angered by the charge. “We never threatened the company and we never told them to close down the plant.”
On March 8, ExxonMobil closes down the plant and around the same time, Wahid threatens to jack up fuel prices. Meanwhile, in early March, G.W. Bush expresses his support for the Indonesian military’s tough stance against the rebels, while, Colin Powell makes it plain he does not want to link human rights issues to arms sales (I mean, what POSSIBLE link could there be between the two, right?). By April, Wahid has called for an all-out assault on the Aceh natives, this time specifically targeting civilians. As the bodies mount up, ExxonMobil officials stand on the sidelines wringing their hands and saying and doing nothing – condoning the slaughter by their very inaction.
Since February, at least 400 Aceh civilians have bee murdered, some, like the baby in Part I, horribly. Meanwhile, on its website, Pertanima reassures prospective oil entrepreneurs that the current “unrest” is temporary and won’t affect their ability to do business. The same site echoes the National Security Council’s 1953 statement in which it indicates it will take “appropriate action” to insure companies are unimpeded.
Most frightening to me – as it should be to all Americans – is that our country is now RUN by oil executives – men from the very same club to which the ExxonMobil’s Indonesian robber barons belong…men with, it is becoming obvious, the very same attitude. In a reined-in repeat of the Suharno Coup and post-coup corporate feeding frenzy in which Suharto richly rewarded all those who aided him, the Bush-Cheney consortium has lost no time handing out the prizes, seeking to reduce regulations, promoting wholesale drilling, creating a phoney energy crisis and driving up fuel prices, stalking unspoiled wildlands and even trying to push for legislation to allow the fed to seize private land for energy interests. The series of coincidental fires at oil refineries and the rolling blackouts aren’t so different from mysteriously lobbed hand-grenades.
And lest we overlook it, the basic Bush energy plan appears to have been taken almost it for tat from the Baker Institute’s “Strategic Energy Policy Changes for the 21st Century” report – a report created by a task force that includes two dozen major oil/energy moguls and also Kissinger Associates. (now McCarty Kissinger)
How can the behemoths (as one Indonesian writer described the American corporate-fueled government) be stopped? Exxon is the largest stockholder-owned oil co. in the world. The question that screams to be asked is: Why are the stockholders silent on the crimes of the company in which they hold a material interest? For that matter, why are there still any stockholders in Exxon at all, in the face of such crimes? Is money so important that nothing – however evil – matters any more?
It is time for the Democrats, as the only opposition party to the new leadership, to realize that compromise is not only impossible with these robber barons, it would be suicidal.