In a historic decision this May, Guatemala’s Supreme Court of Justice sentenced former dictator General Ríos Montt to 80 years in prison for the genocidal massacres of indigenous people in the 1980s. Many Guatemalans hoped that the judicial process against the top criminals of the country’s “dirty war” would finally bring justice—but ten days after the decision, the Constitutional Court reversed the judgment.
While the Guatemalan people protest this violation of the rule of law, the processes of genocide initiated 30 years ago by Ríos Montt’s massacres continue today by other means.
In the last decade, the expansion of oil palm plantations and sugarcane production for ethanol in northern Guatemala has displaced hundreds of Maya-Q´eqchi´ peasant families, increasing poverty, hunger, unemployment and landlessness in the region, according to a new Food First report by Alberto Alfonso-Fradejas, “Sons and Daughters of the Earth: Indigenous Communities and Land Grabs in Guatemala.”
There is a major contradiction here: at the same time that the former General Ríos Montt is convicted for genocide, the Guatemalan government allows the oligarchy, allied with extractive industries, to displace entire populations without concern for the human cost. In many cases, these land grabs result in the murder and imprisonment of rural people who resist the assault.
Genocide against the indigenous peasant population in Guatemala no longer has the face of a military dictatorship supported by the United States. Now it is the corporations, the oligarchy and the World Bank who push peasants off their lands.
In today’s Guatemala, land and resource control is increasingly in the hands of a small oligarchy of powerful families allied with agri-food companies. At the center of this power are fourteen families who control the country’s sugarcane-producing companies (AZAZGUA); five companies controlling the national production of ethanol; eight families that control the production of palm oil (GREPALMA); and members of the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations (CACIF).
Together these powerbrokers are accumulating land and wealth with the support of investment from international institutions such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE). The convergence of multiple global crises—finance, energy, food and environment—has directed corporate investment into land-based resources such as agrofuels, minerals, pasture and food. The situation in Guatemala is extremely violent, part of a global trend where agrarian, financial and industrial interests are grabbing control of peasant lands and resources.
Can land grabs be considered genocide? In many ways, land grabbing is a new form of genocide. Ricardo Falla’s study “What Do You Mean There Was No Genocide?” analyzes the definition of genocide and its characteristics. According to Falla, of the five acts that define genocide, two were most prominent in Guatemala: “the massacre of the members of a group,” and “the intentional subjection of a group to living conditions which will lead to their total or partial physical destruction.”
The first genocide was against the Ixil peoples during the reign of Ríos Montt. The second genocide is enacted today through the privation of the Q´eqchi´ peoples’ means of survival through land grabs. Hundreds of families have been displaced. They do not have land on which to produce food or live, and they are denied their cultural and community identity. These conditions undermine their ability to survive, and lead to their displacement, and in many cases death.
The historic genocide trial this May came about through the peoples’ long struggle to defend their rights. The Ríos Montt conviction is a condemnation of impunity. The oligarchy did everything possible to impede the trial while continuing to displace the indigenous peasant population with the support of international investment and a legal system that favors land grabbing to the detriment of the people.
On May 20, the Constitutional Court overturned the conviction, with two of the five judges opposing the decision. Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur for the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence stated, “No legal decision is inconsequential, even if it is revoked.” The Inter-American Court of Justice issued a statement criticizing the verdict for violating international obligations assumed by the state and preventing the people from seeking justice. Multiple organizations and authorities have spoken out against the court’s decision, arguing that it overstepped its bounds, violated legal provisions, and endorsed the corrupt mechanisms upon which impunity is built in Guatemala. The decision bolsters evidence that Guatemala’s top court lacks political independence and is tied to the country’s economic and ruling elite.
On May 24, thousands of people demonstrated and delivered a letter with more than a thousand signatures to the Court demanding that the decision be reversed. In Argentina, Chile, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru, thousands more marched in solidarity to the Guatemala embassy demanding justice.
If we fail to judge and condemn the massacres committed thirty years ago, what hope is there for the Mayan Q’eqchi’, Xinka, Mam, Kaqchikel and other indigenous peoples currently being displaced and massacred by extractive corporations with the support of the state and international institutions? The people continue to courageously resist and defend their lives, lands and identities. How shall we express our solidarity?
Leonor Hurtado is a fellow at Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy. A native of Guatemala, she has spent decades defending human rights and indigenous rights, and supporting indigenous resistance to the expansion of extractive industries.
Photo: Caracol Producciones
- Survivors Reluctant to Testify in New Genocide Trial (ipsnews.net)
- Guatemalans protest annulment of dictator’s genocide conviction (workers.org)
- Israel’s Hand in Guatemala’s Genocide (phantomreport.com)
Russian shale oil reserves are estimated at 75 billion barrels, which puts the country on top of the global standings, followed by the US and China.
According to the report by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the estimated American shale gas resources equal 58 billion barrels, with third-place China having 32 billion barrels.
But it’s the Chinese, who hold the leadership in shale gas reserves, with 1,115 trillion cubic feet. 802 trillion cubic feet puts Argentina in second, with Algeria not far behind on 707 trillion cubic feet.
The US is fourth when it comes to shale gas (665 trillion cubic feet), while Russia is ninth with 285 trillion cubic feet.
The EIA’s report indicates that the worldwide resources of oil and gas from shale formations are greater than was previously thought.
The global shale oil resources are estimated at 345 billion barrels and shale gas – at 7,299 trillion cubic feet, which is a 10 per cent increase in comparison with the 2011 data.
According to EIA’s administrator, Adam Sieminski, the report shows “a significant potential for international shale oil and shale gas.”
The increase in estimates is explained by more countries joining the efforts to search for deposits, following the ‘Shale Revolution’ in the US.
“As shale oil and shale gas production has grown in the United States to become 30 percent of oil and 40 percent of natural gas total production, interest in the oil and natural gas resource potential of shale formations outside the United States has grown,” Adam Sieminski explained in a statement.
Also on Wednesday, British oil giants BP have Russia’s natural gas reserves estimate at 32.9 trillion cubic meters from 44.6 trillion in last year.
According to the company’s benchmark Statistical Review of World Energy, it’s Iran, who climbed to the top of the global standings, with the proven reserves of 33.6 trillion cubic meters.
BP said that this year they decided to adjust its estimates for the former Soviet Union states, including Russia, where data on reserves remains classified.
“Traditionally countries of the former Soviet Union had different criteria than used elsewhere. So we used a conversion factor to convert that from those countries where we don’t get direct data,” Christof Ruhl, BP’s chief economist, is cited as saying by Reuters. “In some countries, reserves are still a state secret, so we have to rely on these data.”
But Russia remains a much larger gas producer than Iran as the international sanctions prevent the Islamic Republic from exploiting its natural resources in full.
The estimate of gas reserves in the US where the energy industry has been transformed by shale oil and gas, due to lower prices and reduced drilling.
The American gas reserves ended 2012 at 8.5 trillion cubic meters, down 0.3 trillion from indications of 2011.
BP cut proven global gas reserves by nearly 21 trillion cubic meters from 208.4 trillion cubic last year to 187.3 trillion cubic meters as of end of 2012.
Sometimes, as an observer of the news, one comes across a particular opinion column that is so brazen, so audacious, that one must stare at the headline for thirty seconds or so, simply to make sure it’s not a hallucination. Such was my experience this morning when I saw that Fred Hiatt wrote a column for The Washington Post titled “Will Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese dream’ include the rule of law?” Irony is officially dead.
Hiatt, for those who don’t know, is the editorial page editor at the Post, and someone who lives and breathes for war. Not in the sense that he has ever volunteered to go fight in one, of course. That’s for Other People to do. Hiatt prefers to fight the good fight from his comfortable D.C. office. There’s much more money and prestige in doing it that way.
One must stipulate that, while he loves war with all of his heart, Hiatt, like all serious, sophisticated, reasonable Beltway intellectuals, has at times seemed fairly torn on the far more perplexing issue of torture. Whether or not to flagrantly violate domestic and international law and disregard the most basic conceptions of human morality by torturing other people – this always represented a profound moral quandary for the intellectual class. Hiatt did eventually make his thoughts on this matter clear, though, by hiring an absolute lunatic by the name of Marc Thiessen to grace the pages of his newspaper’s prestigious opinion section; Thiessen mostly used his space to explain why torture is so awesome and underrated.
We do know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Fred Hiatt does not believe in the rule of law. In enthusiastically supporting the attack on Iraq, which, as a war of aggression, constituted the “supreme international crime,” Hiatt forever forfeited any right to even talk about the rule of law. One doesn’t get to cheer-lead, fanatically, for the most colossal international crime in a generation, and maintain any credibility on “the rule of law.” This cannot really be debated, unless one also wants to argue in favor of consulting Bill Clinton on marital fidelity, or O.J. Simpson on domestic tranquility.
Hiatt, though, is evidently very concerned about the future of the rule of law. Not in the United States, naturally, but, rather, in China. In his new column, Hiatt worries that China, under Xi, might continue its heinous “bullying” in the international arena and its regular flouting of international norms. Fred Hiatt just hates when countries do this. He encourages President Obama – the man who refuses to investigate and prosecute the torturers and killers of the Bush administration on the astonishing grounds that it’s preferable to Look Forward, Not Backward – to lecture the Chinese on appreciating the rule of law and respecting human rights. Hiatt sternly warns the Chinese that they risk losing the “trust” of the United States if they don’t cease their unconscionable imprisonment of peaceful activists and their disregard for due process. He writes this as peaceful American activist Bradley Manning, after sitting in a cage for more than two years, is now going on trial for the offense of telling people about his country’s war crimes, and as more than 100 prisoners of the United States continue to wage a hunger streak to protest their lack of due process. Hiatt has apparently, through some sort of mental process, airbrushed both stories from his brain, despite the fact that both are currently receiving an astounding amount of international attention.
This column represents one of the most exquisite examples of Orwell’s “doublethink” in recent memory.
- WaPo Really Thinks U.S. Should Be World’s Policeman (lobelog.com)
- incidentally, all these people (hiatt, diehl, rubin, and lobe himself) are jewish (niqnaq.wordpress.com)
After years of failed attempts to start developing one of the world’s largest gas fields, Gazprom might delay the Shtokman project for decades. The shale revolution in the US – the project’s key export market – is undermining its profitability.
Development of the Shtokman gas condensate field in the Barents sea will most likely be postponed “for future generations,” Vedomosti daily quotes Andrey Kruglov, Gazprom deputy chairman. This week Russia’s gas monopoly is due to discuss the future of the world’s biggest gas deposits, where an estimated 3.9 trillion cubic metres of gas is held.
Experts say there’s no point in developing the field right now, as the project is difficult and costly and may fail to find sufficient demand.
US shale gas has definitely “undermined Shtokman that was oriented on the US market,” says Tatyana Mitrova, the head of Russia’s oil and gas development department at the Energy Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “The deposit is difficult…the problem is that there’s really no other market left for Shtokman, after it became irrelevant for the US,” agrees Michael Korchyomkin, a director at East European Gas Analysis.
Having been developed at the beginning of this century, the production of shale gas in the US has significantly moved on. In 2010, shale gas represented more than 20% of the country’s gas production, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The agency also said that by 2035 around 40% of the world’s gas might be unconventional, and shale gas will by far be the greatest part of it.
“Gazprom has been trying to start developing the project for about 10 years. They planned to liquefy part of the extracted gas and deliver that to the US, and transport another part to Europe through a pipeline. The trans-Baltic Nord Stream pipeline was being built for that project,” Kruglov explained. Initially it was planned to start extracting gas from the Shtokman field this year. Its income and expense pro forma is estimated at $30 billion.
The South Kirinskoe deposit on the shelf of the Sea of Okhotks may become the alternative to the Shtokman field, according to Kruglov. It “has almost the same stock as the Shtokman has and is located much closer to the Asian Pacific markets.”
The Kirinskoe deposit is 28 km from the shore at a depth of 90 metres. Shtokman is 550 km away from the shore, at a depth of about 330 metres.
Vedomosti sources told the paper there were plans to develop the South Kirinskoe deposit earlier than Shtokman. It should become the base for a Gazprom LNG plant in Vladivostok, that is due to begin operating in 2018.
However, Grigory Birg, a co-director at Investcafe, remained skeptical, saying the new project will require huge investment and may face the same fate as the Shtokman project.
The good news is that the cellulosic ethanol industry—turning trees and woody plants into liquid fuels—has yet to take off. And without an endless stream of taxpayer handouts to develop this polluting and environmentally destructive energy source, it probably never will.
Under the guise of taking action on climate change, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, expanding it under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007.
According to Institute for Energy Research, the RFS “mandates the production of ethanol to the level of 36 billion gallons by 2022, where 15 billion gallons is to be corn-based and the remainder is to come from advanced forms of biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol.
“The advanced biofuel contribution starts at 0.6 billion gallons in 2009 increasing to 1.35 billion gallons in 2011, 2.0 billion gallons in 2012 and eventually to 21.0 billion gallons in 2022.”
At first, the advanced biofuels component was set at an optimistic 0.6 billion gallons by 2009, 1.35 billion by 2011, 2.0 billion by 2012, and an obscene 21.0 billion by 2022. Yet the industry’s repeated botched attempts to break down wood cellulose into a usable fuel combined with overwhelming investor uncertainty—in the wake of corn ethanol’s recent fall from grace—meant refiners weren’t able to get their hands on anywhere near the EPA’s desired amount.
“Because cellulosic ethanol was not yet commercial, EPA issued changes to the original act that requires four separate standards including 1.0 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel by 2012 and 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels by 2022.”
The requirement for motor fuel from cellulose was initially set at 250 million gallons by 2011 and 500 million by 2012. When that proved impossible, the EPA lowered the bar to 6.6 million gallons by 2011 and 8.65 million by 2012.
When big biofuels still couldn’t make the cut in 2011, the EPA fined refiners $6.8 million. Yet in January 2013, the DC District Court of Appeals struck down the mandate, ruling that it was unfair of the EPA to put refiners in an “impossible position” by punishing them for not buying and blending biofuels that didn’t exist. The EPA repaid the fines.
Wally Tyner, agricultural economist at Purdue University, claims in a Science Insider article that the court decision doesn’t entirely gut the RFS. Tyner concludes that if more cellulosic ethanol comes online in the future, the EPA will then be able to issue their beloved “blending mandates.”
Which won’t happen anytime soon. In 2012 the entire US biofuels industry brewed up only 20,069 gallons of cellulosic ethanol, according to Climatewire.
But the elusive nature of the magic tree gas hasn’t stopped some of the more enterprising bio-profiteers from cashing in. Rodney Hailey, owner of Maryland-based Clean Green Fuel, LCC, sold $9 million in “renewable fuel credits” for biofuels his company never even produced. In February 2013, a US District Court Judge sentenced Hailey to twelve years in the slammer for his sins.
Florida, Georgia, and Oregon have been the site of the industry’s latest casualties. Even the heaping fortunes of fossil fuels giant British Petroleum (BP) weren’t enough to make a go of a $350 million forest-to-fuels facility in Highlands County, Florida—which went belly up in 2012.
A $37 million federal grant and $235 million loan guarantee couldn’t prevent major financial difficulties that ultimately forced ZeaChem, a cellulosic ethanol company in Boardman, Oregon to “scale back plant operations…and let go a number of our valued employees” in March 2013. Only a few weeks before, the company had produced its first and only batch of ethanol. While ZeaChem insists they’re not throwing in the paper towel yet, a recent Oregonian article suggests otherwise.
Perhaps the highest profile bio-failure to date—dubbed the “Solyndra of biofuels” by some—is the shuttering of Range Fuels’ wood-to-ethanol factory in Treutlen County, Georgia. The corporation broke ground in 2007 with promises to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol, seducing the US Department of Energy (DOE) to fork over a $76 million grant. As one of his final acts as president, George W. Bush also doled out an $80 million loan guarantee. The facility was completed in 2010—after having absorbed $46.3 million of the DOE grant and $42 million of the loan—when Range Fuels jumped ship and sold the facility in 2011 for a mere $5.1 million—without having brewed up a single tank of gasoline.
Range Fuels and the company that snatched it up for pennies on the taxpayer subsidized dollar, LanzaTech, are financed by investment company Khosla Ventures. “Billionaire Vinod Khosla, who is known for investing in so-called black swan ideas and innovation that could disrupt markets, also sits on the LanzaTech board,” according to Smart Planet.
Despite the industry’s repeated losses right out of the gate, investors like Khosla keep betting on the same horse. In a fit of either desperation or supreme optimism, Khosla is also backing a Columbus, Mississippi cellulosic ethanol factory that produced its first shipment in March 2013, with plans to build another plant in Natchez, Mississippi later this year.
More ominously, Khosla invested through Mascoma Corporation in a proposal to build a cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in Kinross, Michigan, in the state’s Upper Peninsula. When Mascoma struggled to find sufficient funding, Valero—the largest US refiner of traditional gasoline and the company that would process the dirty tar sands oil at the end of the yet-to-be-constructed Keystone pipeline in Texas—dropped $50 million into the project while agreeing to purchase up to 40 million gallons of the stuff.
Even with Khosla’s millions, in March 2013 Mascoma withdrew its registration for a $100 million initial public offering (IPO)—when a company goes from private to publicly trading on the stock market—blaming “market conditions.” Now the facility is being solely managed by Valero and its disturbingly long track record of Clean Air Act violations.
Pat Egan, area resident and former owner and publisher of the local daily newspaper, is fearful that with Valero acting as sugar daddy the Kinross facility stands a fairly good chance of creating a “commercial and viable product.” Add to this a $26 million grant from the feds, $80 million from DOE and $26 million from the state of Michigan, the facility is certainly a contender.
Before jumping ship, Mascoma conjured up a process called consolidated bioprocessing (CBP) to “develop genetically-modified yeasts and other microorganisms to reduce costs and improve yields in the production of renewable fuels and chemicals.” It’s evident that commercial scale cellulosic biofuels can’t happen without the equally controversial—if not more so—practice of genetic engineering.
Perhaps the unholiest of marriages between the biofuels and genetic manipulation industries involves ArborGen, the progenitor of genetically modified freeze-tolerant eucalyptus trees to convert into paper pulp and biofuels. The US Department of Agriculture is accepting public comments until April 29 in its consideration whether or not to allow the Franken-company to sell hundreds of millions of the experimental life form across Texas, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Georgia.
In order for the Kinross project to work, according to Egan, the facility has to cut all its wood within a 150 mile radius. If you look at a map and draw a circle around the facility, Egan points out that one-third of it is water, including Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, and one-third of it is Canada. Egan believes a significant portion of the grant and development money will migrate north to Canada.
The facility would require a “phenomenal” amount of wood—1.1 million green tons per year to produce 20 million gallons, according to Egan. In comparison, a 50 megawatt biomass power incinerator burns about 500,000 green tons per year. The wood for Kinross would come primarily from pulpwood or whole trees in Michigan and Ontario, sixty to seventy cordwood trucks a day, said Egan.
Upper Peninsula-based Longyear Forestry, a partner in the project, is slated to be providing many of the trees to chip and convert into ethanol and has provided the land to site the facility. 56% of the wood would come from private land owners and the rest from public land, cutting down wild forests and monocrop tree plantations alike, including willow and aspen, explained Egan.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is “already changing their ten year forest plan to create more fast growing use of land,” said Egan. Two national forests, the Hiawatha National Forest and the Superior National Forest are within 150 miles. “All the state and federal sustainable cuts would still offer less than half of the wood supply the project may need.”
A Michigan State University Department of Forestry study acknowledged a limited woodshed in the region, admitting that already “wood-fired electric power plants consume large quantities of wood throughout Michigan and in the Kinross supply region.”
The Kinross biorefinery would provide about fifty to sixty five jobs, said Egan. Yet those numbers don’t include the loss of jobs from businesses competing for the same wood source—that don’t have the taxpayer subsidies to pay top dollar—such as fiberboard.
Not long ago, Pat thought the “bottom” use of wood was for electricity, but now believes “this ethanol thing can be even worse on per job basis.” He points to an area paper mill that employs 1,100. “All of a sudden the paper industry is looking like the good old days,” he said, worried that the refinery’s commandeering of local wood could knock the mill out of business. It’s a perfect example of the government “picking winners and losers.”
Egan refers to the potential biomass boom as the “third big cut”—the first cut being the initial land clearing by settlers in the 1800’s and the second cut taking place in the 20th century for lumber to build houses. Instead of trees growing to 80 to 120 years for high quality lumber, Egan warns that the biomass industry will only be waiting ten to twenty five years between cuts.
“People die” in refinery accidents, said Egan, including Valero’s refinery explosions in March 2012 in Memphis, Tennessee that killed one and injured two. It’s ironically cheaper to pay those fines—$63,000 in the case of Memphis—than make the preventative safety changes, said Egan. Though asked for an emergency plan, the developers have yet to deliver. The ethanol plant would be located within a few hundred yards of a Sioux Tribal Housing facility, with hundreds of residents living across the road. Down the road a couple miles are three state prisons with their captive population of thousands.
Egan is worried that, while so many other ethanol plants have gone bust, Kinross just might make it. He points to Mascoma’s experimental plant in Utica, New York where they claim to have “perfected” the process—burning through 25 million taxpayer dollars in the process. “As soon as they figure out non-food source ethanol and make it saleable and gasoline prices stay high,” warned Egan, they’ll be putting up “cookie cutter plants” all around the country.
So who would buy the ethanol? “If somebody can crack this nut and find the holy grail of commercial cellulosic biofuels, they have a ready made customer in the military,” said Egan. The US Department of Defense is aiming for 40% of their energy to come from biofuels by 2023. In 2012, the US Air Force tested its first ethanol in jets.
“Taking carbon traps, trees that grab carbon out of the air and grow and do so much more in terms of biodiversity,” Egan cautioned, “taking those down and releasing carbon is doing two horrible things.”
Kinross resident Larry Klein—who lives two miles from the proposed refinery site—is fighting the refinery in the courts, with the help of the Sierra Club of Michigan, suing through the NEPA process in regards to the Department of Energy’s $80 million grant. In November 2012, a judge threw out the case, which is now in appeals court in Cincinnati.
- Schlossberg: Large-scale biomass energy is not the answer (vtdigger.org)
Ancestral land that for generations has served as home and livelihood for hundreds of thousands of indigenous people in Ethiopia is being leased out, on 99-year renewable contracts at nominal sums to foreign corporations. The land giveaway or agrarian reforms as the government would prefer to present them began in 2008 when the Ethiopian government, under the brutal suppressive Premiership of Meles Zenawi invited foreign countries/corporation to take up highly attractive deals and turn large areas of land over to industrial farming for the export of crops. India, China and Saudi Arabia were all courted and along with wealthy Ethiopians have eagerly grabbed large pieces of land at basement prices; rates vary from $1.10 to $6.05 per hectare (HA), comparable land in India would set you back $600 per ha.
A total of 3,619,509 ha, the Oakland Institute (OI), a US based think tank, estimate has been leased out. Land made available by the forced re-location of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people under the government’s universally condemned Villagization progamme, which aims to forcibly re-locate over 1.5 million people from their homes.
Indian corporations have taken the lion’s share, acquiring around 600,000 ha concentrated in Gambella and Afar, split between 10 investing companies. The term ‘investing’ implies benefits for Ethiopia, which is misleading; ‘profiteering’, or ‘exploiting’ sits closer to the truth of these land deals, as the OI make clear, “taking over land and natural resources from rural Ethiopians, is resulting in a massive destruction of livelihoods and making millions of locals [farmers and pastoralist communities] dependent on food handouts”. With small scale farmers being evicted from their land, prices of staples such as Teff, used by millions throughout Ethiopia to make Injera (bread), has rocketed in price, according to Ethiotribune 22/5/2012, increasing fourfold since 2008.
Corporate expansionism: small change big profits
In line with its ambitions of diversity and world food dominance – Karuturi Global, the world’s largest grower of roses, leads the Indian charge, leasing 311,700 ha in Gambella. Not satisfied with this, GRAIN (an international NGO, working to support small farmers) report Mr.Karuturi “wants to set up farming operations [throughout Eastern and Southern Africa] on more than 1 million [ha]” – too much never enough in corporate expansionism.
Almost a quarter of Gambella’s 25 million ha has been earmarked by the federal government for agricultural ‘development’. Karuturi, whose profits “rose 55.13% to Rs 1.21 crore [10 million] in the quarter ended June 2012”, took their chunk without even seeing it, paying only $1.10 per ha. For the Indian giant it is, John Vidal in ‘Land Grab Ethiopia (LGE)’ says, “the sale of the century”. ‘Green Gold’ is how Mr. Karuturi in GRAIN (‘Who’s Behind the Land Deals’), describes his 300,000 ha of Ethiopian soil, “for which he pays $46 per ha per year including water and labour and expects at least $660 [per ha] in profit per year”. (Ibid)
In addition to paddy, Indian farmers are being sub-contracted to grow maize, cereals, palm oil and sugarcane amongst others. All of which are destined for export, either to India or Europe, where companies farming in Ethiopia (and other Sub-Saharan African nations), benefit from lower import duties applied to developing countries, notwithstanding the fact that the land is leased to, and the crops produced and sold by, multi million-rupee rich companies.
Another major Indian company leasing land in Gambella is the decidedly green sounding BHO Bioproducts. Following the corporate rhetoric, BHO Chief Operating Officer Sunny Maker told Bloomberg in 2010 that, they have “plans to invest more than $120 million in rice and cotton production”, which, by 2017, should “generate about $135 million a year from sales divided equally between domestic [Indian] and international markets.” He added that the “incredibly rich fertile land”, will all be “cleared within the next three years”. Cleared yes, violently, indiscriminately and totally; villages, people, forests, woodland, all destroyed, burnt, relocated, displaced, desecrated. The governments promise to such prized investors is that the land is handed over stripped of everything and everyone. Dissent is not allowed and dealt with brutally should it occur, as Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of OI makes clear. “The repression of social resistance to land investments is even stipulated in land lease contracts, [it is the] state’s obligation to ‘deliver and hand over the vacant possession of leased land free of impediments’ and to provide free security ‘against any riot, disturbance or any turbulent time.”
The ‘rich fertile land’, lovingly cultivated at the hands of the men and women who have farmed it for generations, is unlikely to be nurtured so carefully by Indian (or indeed Chinese or Saudi Arabian) corporations with their thirsty ‘GM seeds’ (Ibid). For as Oxfam in their detailed report ‘Land and Power’ diplomatically point out, “investors short time scales may tempt them into unsustainable cultivation, undermining agricultural production.”
The devolution of development
Land is a prime cut asset in the commercialization of everything, everywhere, and the “rich fertile land” in Ethiopia is cheap, even by Sub-Saharan African standards. Along with long-term leases, the government offers a neat bundle of carrots, including tax incentives and unrestricted export clauses, incentives that the OI state “deny African countries economic benefits” from land deals that the Ethiopian regime wraps up neatly in its complete disregard for the human rights of the indigenous people. Government indifference encouraging corporate irresponsibility – and they need little encouragement. Businesses hardly seem to be grabbing the land, so much as accepting it as a gift, parceled up and ready to be torn open.
In exchange for such attractive deals, the Ethiopian government has been extended, the OI reports “a $640 million line of credit… over five years to boost sugar production in the country’s Lower Omo region”. Not a philanthropic gesture, more a sales trap by India’s EXIM (export and import) Bank, who stipulate, “Ethiopia must import 75% of the value of the credit line in the form of Indian goods and services.”
The government-owned sugar plantations in the Lower Omo are themselves attracting a great deal of concern and criticism from human rights groups, who highlight the environmental and human damage being perpetrated. Government acts of violence and abuse, in the various land deal regions, are justified under the overused and misleading title of ‘development’; a term appropriated by the international monetary machine – the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) primarily – misunderstood and distorted by government development agencies, acting in line with foreign affairs policies by promoting national self interest and perverted by the corrupt ideologically-blinkered governments of developing nations. An undeveloped ideological trinity whose actions have drained the 21st century sacred cow and its stable mate ‘growth’ – dry of any true and relevant meaning. Far from supporting human and or social development the “unfair terms and near give-away prices [of land deals]… are hindering development…. Foreign corporations and the World Bank are pressuring African leaders to give them exemptions from taxes, import and export duties, and local labor laws – not to mention water and mineral rights that could be worth billions”, the OI confirm.
More concerned with sitting at the top table and cultivating the right international allies than with doing their constitutional duty and serving the needs of the people, the Ethiopian government is in danger of giving away, and for peanuts, it’s ‘rich and fertile’ land to overseas companies who have no interest in Ethiopia, it’s environment, its culture and even less in its people.
Hunger and poverty stalk the land of both Ethiopia and India. 12 – 15 million people survive on food aid in Ethiopia, which ranks at the bottom of the World Hunger Index at 76. India, with the highest rate of malnourished children in the world, where 25% (around 270 million) of the world’s hungry live, despite the fact that, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), “the country grows enough food for its people”, comes in 65th of the hungriest nations, below Niger and the Sudan – neither of which, to my knowledge, boast 61 billionaires and 200,000 dollar millionaires unlike India. And whereas “most countries have made consistent progress in reducing hunger, India has seen hunger rise over the last decade compared with the late 1990s.”(Ibid) This so-called economic miracle nation refuses to feed it’s own people.
Food insecurity, the WFP makes clear is caused not by lack of produce, but by an unwillingness to share the Earths bounty equitably. The states in India with the greatest numbers suffering from hunger and malnutrition, as per WFP records, “include Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh”; these are the states where the poorest (Adivasi – indigenous and Dalit) people in the country and quite possibly in the World happen to live. The poor are dying of hunger not because India cannot feeed everyone, as the United Nations report on regional cooperation makes crystal clear, “the root cause of hunger across the sub-region and the world today is not a lack of food. It is the economic and social distribution of that food which leaves populations undernourished and hungry.”
Men women and children living in dire poverty starve to death, in India, Ethiopia and throughout the world. They starve and die for want of the food that is rotting in warehouses, food served up to rats or destroyed by the Indian government, because it is cheaper to burn it than to distribute it to those in need. As Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (26/01/13) said, “globally, a third of all food produced is wasted, and… if one could avoid this waste it would be possible to feed all the hungry people [in the world] and have food to spare.” Food to spare!Such is the inhumane ethos that underpins market fundamentalism, that allows men women and children, young and old to starve – simply because the do not have the financial means to feed themselves. Shame on governments Indian and the rest, that allow such inhumane injustice to prevail, as a wise teacher said, “throughout the world there are men, women and little children who have not even the essentials to stay alive; they crowd the cities of many of the poorest countries in the world… My brothers, how can you watch these people die before your eyes and call yourselves men”.
The commercialization of the countryside in India and Ethiopia, which is displacing large numbers of small-scale farmers and concentrating crop production in the hands of multi-nationals, is intensifying existing levels of hunger. Substantive agricultural reform and real development would see the army of skilled small scale producers, with generations of local knowledge and love of the land, supported with the needed capital and technology, given access to markets that corporations bring. Such an agrarian revolution, ethically founded, environmentally healthy and socially sustained, would build long-term food security and feed the hungry.
Soft targets easy profits
India as the WFP makes clear, has no domestic need for food produced by the overseas industrial farms that are causing such far-reaching damage, to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people of Ethiopia as well as the natural environment. The movement in Ethiopia mirrors what is taking place to a much greater degree in India. The government has shifted all support away from Indian farmers and is supporting the transfer of land from the rural poor to large companies – wealthy government benefactors, causing the displacement of millions (60 million to date, according to Arundhati Roy) of indigenous people.
Corporations are targeting countries with “poor governance”, Oxfam 7/02/2013 makes clear, that “allow investors to secure land quickly and cheaply…. [They] “Seem to be cherry picking countries with weak rules and regulations”. Needy nations like hungry people make easy targets for multi-national men, whose pockets governments are desperate to nestle inside. The driving force behind such destructive land developments, undertaken by corporations obsessed by an insatiable desire for growth and world leading economic development, is, as Oxfam suggests, profit and profit alone.
China National Petroleum Corporation, the country’s state-run oil major, is looking for its first stake in the US, as the three largest Chinese oil companies together plan to spend $40 billion to access US crude riches.
The announcement came on Wednesday from Jiang Jiemin, the chairman of china’s biggest oil company during the National People’s Congress in Beijing, Bloomberg reports. “We are currently studying [investing in US oil], ” Jiang Jiemin said.
Last month CNPC’s domestic competitor China Petrochemical Corporation agreed to buy a stake in an Oklahoma oil field from Chesapeake Energy for $1.02 billion.
A trend is unfolding for Chinese oil companies to use government loans to buy stakes in the US energy fields.
“Stake participation by Chinese companies in US oil fields would be welcomed,” a London-based analyst for Global Energy & Natural Resources at Eurasia Group, Will Pearson told Bloomberg. “Full buyouts will continue to be scrutinized and opposed.”
China already owns many entire oil and gas fields across Canada and Latin America, Africa and Australia. However the US is not rushing to sell off their fields, especially in the regions where military or other technology can be accessed for fear of intellectual property theft, Pearson said. In September 2012 President Obama barred a Chinese-owned company from building wind farms near a US Navy base in Oregon as a national security risk.
“The Chinese want to gain experience in shale gas, oil sands and deep water so they can redeploy the best US practices and technologies” back in China says Mirae Asset Securities Ltd. analyst Gordon Kwan.
China has already invested a record $1.52 billion purchasing stakes in oil and natural gas fields in the US this year, Bloomberg reports. China National Petroleum alone plans to double overseas production to 200 million tonnes a year by 2015.
- CNPC Said in Talks With Eni for $4 Billion Mozambique LNG Assets – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- China willing to join Exxon at giant Iraq oil field (oneiraqidinar.com)
Here we go again. A sudden surge in the price of gasoline and heating oil is followed by reported expressions of frustrated despair by hard-pressed consumers in the midst of silence from the oil companies and abdication of responsibility by the elected and appointed officials of federal and state governments.
The price of gasoline is up by about 50 cents in the past month, according to AAA, making the average gallon go for close to $4 per gallon in many parts of the country. Prices are even higher in California. AAA says that this “is the most expensive we’ve seen gasoline in the dead of winter.”
Every penny increase in the annual price of gasoline takes over $1.6 billion dollars from the pockets of American consumers (Source). That doesn’t even count the higher prices for heating oil homeowners are paying.
There was a time when even a few cents increase in the price of gasoline or natural gas would provoke Congressional investigations, actions by state Attorneys General, and condemnations of the producer countries, the OPEC cartel and Big Oil from presidents and the heads of antitrust divisions of the Justice Department or the Federal Trade Commission. That is, until smooth, smiling Ronald Reagan came to Washington, D.C. with his mantra that “government is not the solution; government is the problem.”
Well, now the multi-layered petroleum cartel has become institutionalized, having “gotten government off its back” and they’ve put the New York Mercantile Exchange speculators at the gaming tables.
There seems to be an adequate supply of crude oil in this recessionary global economy. What could be the cause of this latest price spike? The news media offer a spectrum of possible factors – restrictions on exports of Iranian oil imposed by western governments, instability in Syria and elsewhere in the volatile Middle East, oil hungry China, oil speculators on Wall Street and reduced refinery capacity in the U.S.
Each price surge in recent decades seems to have different principal causes. This time it seems to have been precipitated by surging prices of crude – easily manipulated – and in the U.S. the permanent or temporary shutdown for repairs, of too many refineries.
Believe it or not, the U.S. is now a net refined petroleum importer because of the continuing refusal by the industry to rebuild or expand refinery capacity on the very sites where many refineries have been shut down, often in favor of offshore, cheaper installations.
Whenever supply and demand for refined oil products is tight, all it takes is for one or two refineries to suspend operations, other than for repairs, and the prices surge all over the country.
This happened in January to a refinery in California, due to a fire, and more prominently the closure of a key refinery in Port Reading, New Jersey, owned by the Hess company. Five dollars a gallon gas “is a real possibility,” John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital, told Yahoo! Finance, adding “this is partly being driven by the lost refinery capacity of about one million barrels per day…that’s a lot.” (The U.S. consumes about 19 million barrels a day of refined petroleum products.)
So what can our so-called representatives in Washington do about a gouge that has angered almost all conservative and liberal consumers? Well, the Democratically-controlled Senate can start by holding investigatory hearings. The President can speak out more forcefully and indicate he may release some of the government’s crude oil reserves to increase supply.
He can order his Justice Department to at the very least subpoena pertinent oil industry information for starters.
Mr. Obama can forcefully back up Gary Gensler, his appointed, savvy Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, who has been trying to rein in excessive speculation that drives up prices and punishes the motoring public.
In 2011 CFTC data showed that massive inflows of speculative money drove up prices. At that time, even Goldman Sachs analyst, David Greely, claimed Wall Street speculation in the futures market was driving up oil prices. Earlier, Rex Tillerson, the head of ExxonMobil, estimated that speculation was responsible for a more than $40 per barrel price increase when oil was just over $100 per barrel. Over the last month crude oil has ranged in price from $93-$120 per barrel.
Admiral Hyman Rickover who, more than 40 years ago, wisely said that there should always be government-owned shipyards to provide a yardstick by which to restrain the high prices and cost overruns being charged by private ship buildings manufacturing the Navy’s ships. That means, in this oil price context, that the government should own and operate some refineries for the armed forces. Any excess capacity could loosen the market with gasoline and heating oil when the corporate interests maneuver tight supplies for which they get immediately rewarded with cold cash.
Were Obama to direct some of his bully pulpit heat on those members of Congress who are marinated in oil, he might find more support from Capitol Hill for all these initiatives.
So call the switchboard at the White House comment line (202-456-1111) and tell the president that you are fed up and determined to drive less, carpool and walk more where possible, but that he, the president, must be more aggressive in taking on the staggeringly profitable and tax-favored big oil companies.
In the New York Times, veteran intelligence writers Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane described Thursday’s confirmation hearing for John Brennan as “notably aggressive” and that it produced “intense questioning” for the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Washington Post’s Greg Miller, another intelligence veteran, said that there were “heated exchanges” as Brennan was “challenged in often blunt terms”
Nothing could be further from the truth as the feckless Senate Intelligence Committee and its chairman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, led Brennan on a virtual walk in the park on the way to confirmation next week.
Keep in mind that Brennan could not be nominated for CIA director four years ago because of the intense opposition to his approval of the agency’s policy of extraordinary renditions, which permitted the CIA to take people off the streets of Europe and the Middle East and transfer them to foreign intelligence services that routinely engaged in the most sadistic kinds of torture.
Also, keep in mind that Brennan is the architect of the U.S. policy of “targeted killings” that have made assassinations a routine part of U.S. foreign policy. And in a shocking statement that was never addressed by the committee, Brennan admitted that, after reading the summary of the committee’s secret report on torture and abuse, he could no longer maintain that torture actually saved American lives.
If Brennan was truly unaware of the sadistic nature of U.S. torture and its lack of favorable results, then this is the most significant case of willful ignorance since Robert Gates told the Senate Intelligence Committee 22 years ago that he was unaware of the true nature of Iran-Contra.
Sherlock Holmes maintained that the dog that doesn’t bark often provides the real clues. Well, the questions that were never asked pointed to a committee that did not want to engage in a genuine confirmation process of a controversial nominee. There were no questions about Brennan’s various press conferences that provided inaccurate information on the killing of Osama bin Laden, the capture of the Nigerian underwear bomber, and the number of innocent lives that are being taken in Drone attacks.
Conversely, there was no discussion of press appearances that Brennan should have given in the wake of the attack on the Benghazi consulate that was oddly placed in the hands of UN Ambassador Susan Rice. All of these interviews were designed in part to put the best possible face on the national security policies of the Obama administration, hardly a standard for judging a future director of the CIA (or a Secretary of State).
The long list of uncovered topics included Iran, which has been the target of intense covert action; renditions that continue in the Obama administration; the huge number of foreign countries that participated in the program of extraordinary renditions; the virtual demise of the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, which is the only serious oversight entity within the intelligence community; the placing of responsibility for targeted assassinations of American citizens in the hands of “informed, high-level” officials (whatever that may mean); or the CIA’s double standard that allows the operations officer who destroyed the torture tapes to write for the Washington Post while a CIA critic of torture and abuse goes to jail.
Since the end of the Cold War, the CIA has increasingly become a paramilitary organization, but there was no questioning of Brennan on what he will do to return the agency to its central role of collecting and analyzing intelligence.
As a result of this hearing, the American people have no idea of Brennan’s plans for an intelligence agency that has registered a series of regular intelligence and operational failures over the past two decades. Brennan merely explained that his job at CIA will involve “optimizing transparency and optimizing secrecy,” again whatever that means. He blithely assured the committee that he would do his best to share documents with its members, which was similar to Gates’s assurances to the committee in 1991 that were observed in the breach.
Brennan would not even call waterboarding an act of torture even though former CIA Director Leon Panetta and Attorney General Eric Holder have done so. Brennan had no idea that, under his stewardship as counter-terrorism adviser, only one high-value target had been captured.
The Bush administration at least tried to capture these targets and elicit intelligence; the Obama administration has resorted primarily to drone operations to kill them (although Brennan said some suspects end up in the hands of U.S. regional allies with Americans sometimes attending the interrogations or putting in their own questions).
No one on the committee appeared to understand that it was foreign intelligence liaison that produced the intelligence for past captures of “high-value” targets, but CIA practices of torture, renditions and secret prisons made liaison more difficult. And no one on the committee pursued the long-term consequences of Brennan’s “targeted killings,” which retired General Stanley McChrystal believes has increased the number of terrorists and the intensity of anti-Americanism.
Nevertheless, an editorial in the New York Times recommended the confirmation of Brennan, while expressing the hope that he would not “forget that heightened danger does not free the executive branch from oversight or the normal system of checks and balances.”
There was nothing in Thursday’s hearings that suggested the Senate Intelligence Committee is devoted to genuine oversight or that Brennan has a genuine understanding of checks and balances. In fact, in one of the most disturbing remarks of the day, Brennan closed out the session by actually asking the committee to be an “advocate” for the CIA. He doesn’t even understand that the committee was created three decades ago to be an advocate for the American people.
Melvin A. Goodman, a former CIA analyst, is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University. His latest book is National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. Goodman’s recent speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco will be on CSPAN Sunday, Feb. 10, at 8 p.m. EST.
Iran has discovered 14 billion barrels of crude oil reserves during the first three quarters of the current Persian calendar year (started March 20, 2012), an Iranian deputy oil minister says.
In a Monday interview, Mohsen Khojasteh-Mehr noted that during the previous Iranian year (ended March 19, 2012), the country discovered 20 billion barrels of crude oil.
“A total of 14 billion barrels of crude oil reserves has been also discovered in the first nine months of the current year,” he added.
The official pointed to Iran’s 300-percent progress in discovery of oil and natural gas resources and noted that the oil ministry is currently ahead of its discovery plans.
“Even in the absence of new discoveries, Iran will be capable of producing oil for the next 140 years,” Khojasteh-Mehr pointed out.
Iran holds the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves.
The country’s total in-place oil reserves have been estimated at more than 560 billion barrels, with about 140 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Moreover, heavy and extra-heavy varieties of crude oil account for roughly 70-100 billion barrels of the total reserves.
- Iran discovers new natural gas reserves (en.trend.az)
- Iran begins oil production from a joint field with Iraq (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Iraq Discovered Another Billion Barrels Of Oil It Had No Idea Existed (businessinsider.com)
- China Imports of Iranian Crude Rebound to Highest in Six Months – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)