China vs the US: The Battle for Oil

China vs the US: The Battle for Oil

Directed by Jean-Kristophe Klots (2012)

Film Review

The Battle for Oil is about the battle between China and the US over the world’s dwindling oil reserves. Globally China is the second biggest oil consumer – after the US. Owing to its dwindling reserves, they import two-thirds of their oil. High domestic demand for oil leads to periodic power blackouts and long queues at services stations.

China has three state-owned oil companies employing tens of thousands of workers, mainly in London, Singapore, New York. The country’s high demand for oil has led to major investment in African and South American oil producers. Rather than buying barrels of oil, China seeks investment in oil production capacity. Chad, Sudan and other African countries have granted them major oil concessions in return for major infrastructure investment in ports, railroads, telecommunication networks, schools, and clinics.

China’s ability (thanks to immense cash reserves) to invest in massive infrastructure projects gives them significant competitive advantage over western oil companies. As does China’s commitment to absolute non-interference in the host country’s political affairs. This contrasts sharply with western loans. The latter are always accompanied by demands for “democratic” and “human rights” reforms, which turn out to be camouflage for further penetration by Wall Street interests.

In 2005, China freaked out US lawmakers by attempting to take over the American oil company Unocal. Owing to their desire to preserve friendly trade relations, China dropped their Unocal takeover bid and shifted their focus to forging alliances with oil producers hostile to the US, such as Iran, Russia and Venezuela. Much of the current US animosity towards Venezuela stems from growing Chinese investment in their oil industry – a fact rarely mentioned in the mainstream media.

 

How 20th Century Missionaries Opened Up Latin America for Wall Street

the-missionaries

The Missionaries: God Against the Indians

By Norman Lewis

Penguin (1988)

Book Review

The Missionaries is a travelogue by British journalist Norman Lewis recounting his visits in the fifties, sixties and seventies to remote regions of Vietnam and Latin America. His purpose is highlighting the systematic genocide of indigenous tribes during this period and the role played by evangelical missionaries (with close CIA collaboration) in evicting native peoples from land US corporations sought to exploit it.

As a prologue, Lewis describes the English invasion and occupation of Tahiti in 1767. English missionaries spent seven fruitless years trying to voluntarily convert native Tahitians to Christianity. They eventually resorted to force, collaborating with colonial police to execute natives who refused to convert and outlaw cultural practices such as dancing, tattooing, surfing and wearing flowers. The usual sentence for engaging in such practices was hard labor on the roads.

Over the next 25 years, the British and French governments successfully colonized all the South Pacific islands and virtually extinguished all native culture.

The book fast forwards to World War II, when the invention of the caterpillar tractor allowed Europeans and Americans to finally penetrate inaccessible jungles in South East Asian and Latin America – enabling them to kill and displace even more indigenous populations.

Lewis focuses mainly on the two most powerful missionary organizations: the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and the New Tribes Missions (NTM). Both assisted the CIA and their puppet dictators in displacing thousands of indigenous groups from the jungles of Columbia, Peru, Venezuela, Brazil and Paraguay. The evidence he lays out directly implicates these missionary groups in the slaughter (in some cases by aerial bombardment), enslavement and forced prostitution. In most cases, individual  missionaries had their own commercial stake in colonizing these regions (eg selling food to native populations following the destruction of their jungle habitat and hiring out their female children as domestic servants and prostitutes).

The callous attitude (towards the enslavement and extermination of their converts) of these so-called men of God is quite astonishing. They rationalize their actions based on the “inevitability” of native assimilation. If the transition to civilization kills most of them, so much the better. By baptizing them, the missionaries can ensure they go straight to Heaven.

Once Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil, Panama and Columbia ousted their US-sponsored military dictators, all five countries banned both the SIL and the NTM, which were ultimately denounced by both the UN and the Organization of American States (OAS) for violating the UN Genocide Convention.

People can read a more detailed account of the CIA/SIL collaboration to open up Latin America to US corporate interests in Thy Will Be Done the Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil

Falling Oil Prices: a Saudi Viewpoint

Inside Story – What’s Behind the Falling Oil Prices

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

A most revealing documentary. Unlike western pundits who speculate about conspiracies to wipe out shale oil producers (ie fracking) and the oil  economies of Russia and Venezuela, these Middle East analysts stick to economic fundamentals.

The three analysts identify three main factors behind the present oil glut: shale gas production, a big increase in renewable energy production and dropping demand by emerging economies such as China.

They maintain Saudi Arabia’s primary motivation for current output levels is fear of losing “market share” if they unilaterally cut oil production.

There’s also an interesting discussion about the Saudi plan to introduce taxation to help reduce their $98 billion deficit.

The Movement to Dismantle Industrial Agriculture

Growing Change

Directed by Simon Cunich (2011)

Film Review

Growing Change is an Australian documentary about Latin America’s food sovereignty movement and the deliberate campaign by Venezuela and other left leaning governments to extract themselves from the US-run system of industrial agriculture.

The film begins by quoting from a 2008 study by the UN Environment Programme called Agriculture at a Crossroads: International assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology.

This study concludes that industrial agriculture can’t produce enough food to feed 9 billion people.* Although it cites a number of reasons for this conclusion, the documentary highlights two of the most important: oil depletion (industrial agriculture requires 66 barrels of oil per year to feed one person) and the destruction of topsoil through repeated use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that kill living organisms responsible for soil fertility. In part due to urbanization, the world has lost 25% of their productive farmland over the last 25 years.

Food Sovereignty in Venezuela

Using Venezuela as an example, Growing Change demonstrates how industrial agriculture increases world hunger, with foreign corporations driving peasant farmers off their lands and destroying local farmers’ livelihoods through cheap food imports.

As Venezuela expanded oil production to become the world’s largest oil exporter (in 1950), ruling elites allowed the country’s agricultural system to collapse. Forced to leave their land (either by direct expropriation or inability to compete with cheap food imports), farmers flooded into the slums of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities. Meanwhile with all the oil profits going to ruling elites and their US backers, mass unemployment and poverty left the majority of the population with no money to buy food.

Things came to a head in 1989 with the massive Caracasa uprising, in which the Venezuela army shot 3,000 protesters.

Venezuelan Reforms Led by Grassroots

For me, the chief value of this film was learning that most of the reforms Hugo Chavez implemented were driven – not by Chavez himself – but by well-organized peasant and workers groups. Moreover it was clearly the power of their organizing that brought him to power in 1998.

Between 1998 and 2008, Chavez used oil revenues to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition from 21% to 6%. His land reform program redistributed 6 million acres of vacant land to 250,000 families. Working through community councils and self-governing cooperatives, the new occupants put most of this land into organic production. Chavez also heavily subsidized organic urban farms on vacant city land, free meals at work sites and community centers and a 40% reduction in the cost of imported food for the poorest families..


*World population is predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050.
**Unless they had illegally expropriated the land, landowners were compensated at fair market value for undeveloped land the Chavez government confiscated.

The Global Movement for Participatory Democracy

Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas

Directed by Silvia Leindecker and Michael Fox

Film Review

Beyond Elections is about the global participatory democracy (aka direct or deliberative democracy) movement – the grassroots effort to replace so-called representative democracy (aka polyarchy*) with a process in which citizens participate directly in policy decisions that affect their lives. Historically participatory democracy began in ancient Athens, where people governed directly through large public assemblies (unfortunately assemblies were limited to free born men, who comprised only one-fifth of the population).

According to the filmmakers, participatory democracy died out until 1989, when the Brazilian Workers Party resurrected it in Porto Allegre Brazil by creating participatory budget assemblies. In my view, this isn’t strictly correct, as the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, who the Marxists expelled from the First International** , advocated for a system of participatory democracy called “collective anarchism.” Workers used participatory democracy to run the 1871 Paris Commune, as did numerous Spanish cities during the Spanish Civil War.

The Spread of Participatory Democracy

The documentary explores how this new style of local government spread throughout Brazil and to other Latin American countries, as well as to Europe, Africa and even parts of Canada (Guelph Ontario and parts of Montreal). A few US activists are campaigning for more American communities to adopt participatory democracy (several are described in the 2012 book Slow Democracy), but most Americans have never heard of it. The only aspect of participatory democracy widely adopted in the US are workers cooperatives.

Beyond Elections presents numerous examples of participatory democracies in the various Latin American countries that have implemented it. Under representative democracy, local councils are nearly always controlled by local business interests, and elected officials typically enact budgets that benefit these interests. When ordinary people control the budgeting processes through popular assemblies, they spend the money on programs benefiting the entire community, eg on clean safe housing, health centers and basic sanitation.

The Venezuelan Example

Following Hugo Chavez’s election in 1998, the Venezuelan government called a constitutional assembly to write a new constitution. The latter enabled Venezuelans to directly govern their communities through communal councils, as well as water committees, workers committees (to set up and run workers cooperatives), health committees and land committees (to implement land reform and set up farmers cooperatives).

The projects carried out by the communal councils and various committee were funded by grants from the central government. Despite endemic corruption in the Venezuelan bureaucracy, these new grassroots-run structures succeeded in bringing health care, decent housing and basic sanitation to Venezuelan slums for the very first time.

The film also examines the adoption of participatory democracy in Bolivia, Ecuador and parts of Mexico controlled by the Zapatistas.

The film is in 16 parts of roughly 5 minutes. Each successive segment starts automatically as the preceding segment finishes.


*In a polyarchy, power is closely guarded by a wealthy elite and the population remains passive except for periodic “free elections” in which they vote for the elites of their choice. When a tiny minority controls nearly all the wealth, “free elections” are only possible if the majority is systematically controlled with psychological propaganda. See Emancipate Yourself from Mental Slavery
**The First International Working Man’s Association was an international organization which aimed at uniting a variety of different left-wing socialist, communist[1] and anarchist political groups and trade union organizations that were based on the working class and class struggle.

How Big Oil Dictates US Foreign Policy

The Secret of the Seven Sisters

Al Jazeera English (2013)

Film Review

Despite its length, this documentary should be compulsory viewing. Everyone with an IQ over 90 should see it at least once before they die. It was only in viewing this film that I fully grasped the insane, oil-inspired military aggression in the third world and the US fascination with despotic dictators.

The video below is actually an 8-part series shown over successive nights on Al Jazeera-English. I’ve summarized the highlights of each of the eight parts so you can fast forward to specific segments that interest you.

0.00 – 23.26

Part 1 takes viewers from the founding of the secret Seven Sisters oil cartel in 1928 to the creation of the competing Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1960. The latter is made up of oil producing countries that have nationalized their oil industries.*

The film begins by describing the secret (illegal) cartel formed in 1928 by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (which became British Petroleum), Standard Oil (which became Exxon) and Royal Dutch Shell. The goal was to end the cutthroat competition that was eating into profits. At a secret meeting in Scotland the three companies agreed to an orderly division of global production zones, as well as a process for fixing oil prices.

Later Mobil, Gulf, Texico and Chevron would join these three oil giants. The existence of the cartel remained secret until the 1950s, when it became known as the Seven Sisters.

This segment describes the totalitarian control BP exercised over Iran until 1951. A strike for higher wages led to a national uprising that overthrew the Shah and resulted in the democratic election of Mohammad Mosadegh as president. When the latter threatened to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, the British government requested CIA assistance to overthrow Mosadegh and restore the Shah to the throne. In return, the US government won the right for American oil companies to join BP in exploiting Iran’s oil resources.

In July 1956 after Egyptian president Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal (the main route for transporting Middle East oil to Europe), Britain, France and Israel declared war on Egypt. Nasser responded to an aerial bombing campaign by using concrete bunkers to blockade all Suez traffic. For once, the US and USSR collaborated to pressure the three aggressors to withdraw their forces and restore the transit of oil tankers through the canal.

23.26 – 46.00

Part 2 traces how the rise of OPEC worked to gradually erode the dominance of the Seven sisters – with violent repercussions.

In 1972 Saddam Hussein nationalized Iraq’s oil industry, with technical and military support from the Soviets and the French.

By October 1973, when Israel’s Arab neighbors launched the Yum Kippur War, OPEC members controlled 60% of the global oil supply. This enabled them to launch an oil embargo against the US in retaliation for their support of Israel in the 1973 conflict.

In 1978 Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, living in exile in Paris, called for a workers strike in the Iranian oil industry that caused a total shutdown of oil production. This, in turn, led the US to abandon their longtime support of the Shah and his secret police. The result was a national uprising, the forced exile of the Shah, the return of Ayatollah and the nationalization of Iran’s oil industry.

Determined to regain American corporate control of Iran’s oil industry, the US government backed Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iraq in 1980. The sudden onset of peace in 1988 led to a period of “overproduction” and a dangerous drop in oil prices. In response, George Bush senior, whose Zapata oil company had made a fortune via offshore drilling in Kuwait, openly encouraged Saddam Hussein (through ambassador April Glaspie) to invade Kuwait. This would create a pretext for the first US invasion of Iraq in 1991.

In May 2001 (20 months before the US invasion), a secret energy task force headed by former oil executives Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, drew up a plan whereby Exxon, Shell and BP would divide up US occupied Iraq into eight oil extraction zones.

48.00 – 61.00

Part 3 describes the decision by the Seven Sisters to open up Africa to increasing oil exploitation due to their gradual loss of control over Middle East oil.

In 1970, Colonel Omar Gaddafi led a coup against a corrupt Libyan monarchy that was allowing the Seven Sisters to pay 12 cents a barrel in royalties to extract high quality Libyan oil. Gaddafi immediately nationalized the oil industry, raised oil prices 33% and used the funds to finance generous public services for the Libyan world and to fund freedom fighters all over the world (including the Palestinians).

This section also traces the history of the French oil companies ELF and Total in Nigeria. After Algeria won independence from France in 1971, they nationalized their oil industry, and ELF began exploiting oil resources in Nigeria, Chad, Congo, Cameroon, and Angola, where they financed guerrillas and despotic regimes and participated in bribery and embezzlement schemes that massively increased the international indebtedness of these countries. In 2003 the CEO of ELF was sentenced to prison and the company was bought out by Total.

61.00 – 95.00

Part 4 covers the role of the Seven Sisters in stoking Sudan’s civil war (most of Sudan’s oil comes from South Sudan) and the role of Shell Oil Company in Nigeria’s trial and execution of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

95.00 – 118.00

Part 5 traces the longstanding battle between Russia and the US oil industry over control of the Baku oilfields on the Caspian Sea. It begins with Lenin’s capture of the oilfields in 1920. Hitler’s primary reason for attacking the USSR in 1941 was to gain control over Baku.

This section also details how a US-Saudi conspiracy to flood the market with oil in the late eighties (dropping the global oil price to $13) ultimately led to the Soviet collapse in 1989. At the time revenue from oil sales was the Soviet’s sole source of foreign currency.

118.00 – 142.00

Part 6 concerns the role of the color revolutions in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in keeping Caspian Sea oil out of Russian hands and under the control of US oil companies.

It briefly discusses the US role in Boris Yeltsin’s coup against the Russian parliament and his privatization of the Russian oil industry on behalf of the Seven sisters and a handful of Russian oligarchs (Putin has subsequently re-nationalized Russia’s oil industry).

142.00 -165.00

Part 7 discusses the concept of Peak Oil and the current dispute between the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi government over the control of the Bakr oil terminal near Bazra. At present it’s illegal for the Kurds to export their own oil. Eighty-five percent of Iraqi oil is processed at the Bakr oil terminal and Iraqi Kurdistan on receives 17% of this revenue.

165.00 – 190.00

Part 8 is about the Seven Sisters exploitation of Mexican and Venezuelan oil prior to the election of Hugo Chavez as president. It also summarizes that status of the countries (Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Brazil, and Malaysia) that have nationalized their oil industry. At present these countries control one-third of oil and gas production, and more than one-third of oil reserves. Despite their role in instigating western military aggression, the influence of the Seven Sisters continues to declines.

At present they control 10% of oil production and only 3% of oil reserves. Their monopoly on exploration, drilling and refining technology gives them disproportionate control over the industry.


*Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela

How Cuba is Revolutionizing Global Health Care

Salud! : What Puts Cuba on the Map in the Quest for Global Health

Connie Field (2009)

Film Review

Salud! Is about the global struggle to overcome health inequality and the vital role Cuba plays in this effort. Filmmaker Connie Field is totally open about her perspective that that health car is a basic right and not a commodity, as it’s viewed in the US.

In pre-revolutionary Cuba, only a small wealthy elite had access to health care. The poor, who comprised 90-90% of the population, died in droves of treatable conditions, such as malaria, respiratory infection, parasites and infantile diarrheal infections.

The Castro regime responded to this health crisis by training tens of thousands of doctors. At present, Cuba has 60,000 doctors for a population of 11 million, making their health system one of the best resourced in the world.

Ending Diseases of Poverty Worldwide

Cuba has been extremely generous in sharing this resource with other poor countries, especially in Africa and Latin America. Since 1963, over 100,000 Cuban health professionals have worked overseas. As well as performing direct patient care, they also train foreign health care professionals.

The film profiles their work in South Africa, Gambia, Honduras and Venezuela. In all four countries, the Cuban doctors have helped local health professionals establish community-based health delivery systems that focus on health promotion and disease prevention. This contrasts to health care in the industrialized north, which waits for patients to get sick and fights one illness at a time.

Cubans Healthier than Americans

Thanks to their phenomenal workforce and this common sense approach, Cuba is one of the few developing countries that has virtually eradicated malaria. Moreover Cubans experience better overall all health status than Americans. On average, Cubans live longer: 79.07 years compared to 78.74 years for Americans. Cuba also has a lower infant mortality (4.70 per 1,000 live births) than the US (6.2 per 1,000 live births).

In Honduras and Venezuela, Cuban doctors have played an essential role in setting up clinics in barrios and rural areas that are poorly served by Honduran and Venezuelan doctors – both for financial (their barrio patients can’t afford to pay them) and “lifestyle” reasons. Despite their refusal to serve these communities, local doctors responded to the presence of Cuban doctors with mass protests claiming the Cuban medics were threatening their livelihood.

Free Medical Education for International Students

In 1999, Cuba set up the Latin American Medical School, which offers free medical training to low income students from all over the world. In collaboration with the Congressional Black Caucus, they have also opened this medical school to African and Hispanic students from low income US communities.