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Chevron’s David O’Reilly and the Power of Human Energy

October 29, 2007

Chevron’s Chief Executive David O’Reilly announced from Thailand today that Chevron will keep its stake in the Yadana natural gas pipeline project in Burma. Following the Burmese military junta’s severe crackdown on peacefully revolting Buddhist monks last month, there were renewed calls for the last U.S. corporation in Burma to leave.

As Bloomberg Worldwide reported:

The people around the Yadana gas project and pipeline have benefited from jobs and investments in health care and education, Chief Executive David O’Reilly said today in an interview in Bangkok.

“Our commitment is to try to stay to be a positive influence,” O’Reilly said in an interview in Bangkok today. “It isn’t going to change anything if we leave. We are a minority investor in this project.”

As Total Denial, a new documentary makes clear, Chevron’s rationalizations for staying in Burma, which O’Reilly elevates to “commitments,” are based on lies and distortions.

With regard to the boon of humanitarian aid that Chevron provides for the local people, the people themselves tell a very different story of the pipeline in their region in Total Denial, which can be seen in this clip. The local population in that region of Burma speak of rape and torture and forced labor. They tell essentially a slave narrative to interviewers, tales of being evicted, raped, tortured, forced to work for free, shot. And they have a lot more to lose by lying; ultimately, their lives are on the line if identities are compromised. One woman reports having her baby kicked into an open fire by Burmese soldiers. The baby later died.

As for the minority shareholder status of Chevron/Unocal, this is Chevron’s most laughable spin. Chevron’s lawyer Daniel Petrocelli is heard using this same defense in the film. Under questioning, he admits that majority shareholder Total’s share is in the 30 percentage range, while Chevron/Unocal’s is about 28%. He doesn’t give an exact figure for Total. But the discrepancy in majority/minority shareholders could be as little as one and two thirds percent.

Rights agencies and eyewitnesses with an ongoing presence particularly in that region, like the Free Burma Rangers and Christian Solidarity Worldwide–as well as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN–have consistently reported on the widespread use of forced labor, slavery, rape as a weapon of war, destruction and confiscation of property, the use of landmines, and religious persecution. Not to mention mass murder, mass arrests, torture, and on and on. The military in Burma has behaved like this for decades. In fact, an internal Chevron memo featured in Total Denial shows that Chevron/Unocal knew that by working with this government more of these violations were certain to occur.

But even when the violations aren’t committed directly for the pipeline, there is still the problem of funding ongoing atrocities. The Yadana pipeline is the single biggest source of revenue for the dictators, according to Total Denial’s director/writer Milena Kaneva, who spoke in New York on Saturday after the film screened in Greenwich Village. Those revenues from energy giants are converted directly into weapons used against Burma’s own people, as has been well documented by rights groups.

When Congress meets to deliberate on Chevron’s role in Burma this week, they should be asked to watch this film; as it is, the people of Burma will be sorely under-represented in those hearings. If the truth comes out, it will become clear that Chevron has been participating, essentially, in human sacrifice on a mass level for profits for shareholders (their website boasts of the Power of Human Energy; how ironic against the persistent charges of slave labor in Burma).

Chevron should be made to face the consequences of the violations of international law and crimes against humanity which they participated in and continue to fund, willingly and knowingly. Congress must get this right, or the entire Bush presidency will be a record of enriching corporations while making terror and atrocities worse, undermining democracy movements worldwide, and funding that which we have explicitly sought to eliminate: repression, terror, tyranny, brutality and the rule of violence.

Congress’s participation in that record will be a blight of shame that will not soon be forgotten.

–Joel Whitney, Guernica

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