5-15-07 by Court
Chevron reports that a group of young protesters briefly occupied its office in the Nigerian Delta city of Warri asking for jobs and better social conditions. The oil rich region is home to the biggest oil companies and their gravy trai. Yet the majority of residents live on less than $1 per day, while the operations of Chevron and its ilk help the companies reap their $3.50 gallon in the US.
The wealth gap has spurred kidnappings, unrest and killings. Chevron had to suspend some operations this past weekend after four of its workers were taken off a ship.
The question Chevron CEO David O’Reilly and other oil companies must ask themselves is whether their wealth will keep them at war with the poor across the world, or whether they will begin to use it to change their business model. That change is not just about moving away from the petroleum economy, it’s also about building communities, creating jobs and changing social conditions. With a $17 billion profit last year, Chevron could make a big difference in the Nigeria Delta and elsewhere if it started listening to the voices of the poor rather than remaining at war with them.
Last night, I watched the world premier of a brilliant documentary,"Salud!," amid the wealth of the West, at the Billy Wilder theatre in the marble-rich Armand Hammer museum in Westwood, CA. Built from oil money, too. The UCLA school of health sponsored the showing of the film about Cuban doctors traveling to Africa and Latin America to export their excellent system of preventive health care and community medicine to change intolerable conditions for the poor. The model has been miraculous at preventing children from dying from preventable diseases like diarrhea. The conditions before the doctors’ arrival were shocking, and I imagine such conditions exist today in the Niger Delta right beside the big oil companies that take resources from that land.
Chevron needs to consider the realpolitik of the situation. One of the community health care systems Cuban doctors helped build was in Venezuela’s barrios. The oil giants recently had to give up their operations there because president Hugo Chavez, who keeps close ties to Cuba, nationalized the oil facilities. Chavez’ mandate comes from the same low-income voters who were taken care of through community health care. Until Chevron and other companies start to listen to the protesters they face the same danger of the shutdown to their oil machine in Nigeria and across the globe.