LABB Takes the Cake When Angolan Officials Try to Serve up their Country to US Oil Companies

By Kristen Evans, LABB Art-to-Action Coordinator

On May 7, 2012 a commission of Angolan government officials and oil industry reps came to New Orleans to serve their country up to Big Oil at a fancy luncheon sponsored by the World Trade Center. The Bucket Brigade was invited to the event, and we showed up to make sure that the stark realities of Angola’s petroleum devastation—destroyed fisheries, rampant corruption and deepening poverty—dominated the discussion. We also brought a cake.

Angola, recovering from a three-decade civil war, is now the second biggest producer of oil in sub-Saharan Africa. Instead of using this short-lived boon to improve the lives of their people – 53% of whom live on less than $1.25/day, 181 out of 1000 children die before age five – government officials are lining their pockets and oil companies like Chevron are reaping the rewards. Meanwhile, monumental corruption and frequent oil spills are devastating the environment and fueling violence, and local people are paying the price with their lives and livelihoods. “Most of the fishermen are now out of business and the oil leakages are now affecting in-land rivers next to the coast” described an Angolan fisherman.  The vast majority of Angolans are good people, struggling for peace and prosperity and a better future—they deserve better.

Sound familiar? In Louisiana, for decades we have been harmed by government collusion with Big Oil, and we have paid the price too: unfettered environmental destruction, systemic health problems, a deeply corrupted political system and the worst run state in the US (according to the “Camelot Index”[1]).

We refused to let the oil industry get away with holding this meeting in New Orleans without being called to the carpet for its masquerade of pollution, economic devastation, corruption and death for people and the environment. So we rewrote the program for the day: “Today’s Menu: Angola.”

Drawn in by the initial mouthwatering appetizers “Texas Tea with a Slice of Black Gold”  and “Seafood Sampler”, we watched as oil execs and government officials expressed a combination of curiosity and dismay as they carefully read it all the way through – dishes such as “Oiled Fish”, “Yours and Mined”  and more  – and winced at the unpleasant taste of truth. We also distributed a highly provocative Financial Times article about corruption investigations of Cobalt International Energy by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) for its dealings in Angola[2].

After a lavish lunch with wine (consider that one plate was easily equivalent of more than one month’s protein for the average Angolan), the formal presentations began. “Angola is open for business!” announced the head of the US-Angola Chamber of Commerce, and so we were reminded repeatedly about the bounties of “Angolanization,” a catchword for kleptocracy. One Angolan businessman used the cash register sound effect “cha-ching” to advance each slide in his presentation. It quickly became clear that this event was in fact a hook-up for so-called Angolan “local content partners”. Angola requires that international investors partner with a locally owned Angolan business. While promoted as a way to build local business capacity and employ Angolans, the “local content partner” functions as an institutionalization of Angola’s legendary corruption and a way for oil companies to funnel bribes to government officials through shell companies. When LABB Founding Director Anne Rolfes sat down next to an Angolan businessman, the first thing he said–before even hello–was “content partner”.

Dealing with corrupt governments is risky business for American companies. “Corruption pervades Angolan society and commerce and extends across all levels of government,”[3] according to the US State Department.  Houston’s Cobalt International Energy, which recently discovered a huge new offshore oil field, is being investigated by the SEC and DOJ for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act because its Angolan content partner is owned by three government officials.[4] So Rolfes asked the Angolan commission in the Q&A session: “Is the Angolan government prepared to offer amnesty to the US businessmen prosecuted under Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?”

What did American business leaders say when confronted with the facts? Several left. Others were unaffected: A businessman with TransAmerica Energy told LABB Program Manager Anna Hrybyk, “Africa is just a bunch of rag-tag villages with no Christian values.” When asked about the mines planted by oil companies around their facilities: “Of course we have minefields. We have to protect our assets.” About corruption: “Any company that works in Africa has broken, fractured or severely bent the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

We must refuse to let oil interests destroy our health, our land and our future for a quick profit, here or abroad. We encourage all those who find unconscionable the oil industry’s exploits in Angola or elsewhere to take a stand and say what the oil industry and corrupt officials need to hear wherever they go:  their brutal profit-seeking is criminal and will be exposed.


[1] Times-Picayune. April 26, 2012. “Louisiana Ranks Last on ‘Camelot Index.’”

[2] Financial Times. April 15, 2012. “Spotlight Falls on Cobalt’s Partner.”

[3] U.S. Department of State, “2008 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes,” March 2008, at 83-84.

[4] Financial Times. April 15, 2012. “Spotlight Falls on Cobalt’s Partner.”

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4 Responses to LABB Takes the Cake When Angolan Officials Try to Serve up their Country to US Oil Companies

  1. maybe for desert they’ll serve up a little leftover COREXIT 9500 or 9527 ??
    http://www.valdezlink/corexit.htm

  2. Thad Daly says:

    Take another look, it is Angolans sell Angola not specifically to US oil but to the highest bidder- there are many international oil companies that are not US. It is up to Angola to clean up their act. Bear in mind Angola has no other natural resource except oil. Whatever get by to the citizen however small is from oil. For more it will require a political change. Nothing done here will change that. If it is not the US then it will just be different oil company that the US will have to deal with for imports later. There is no such thing as a perfect world.

  3. swampdeville says:

    Well, Thad, when sellers of oil leases are engaging in corruption, then the buyers of those oil leases are participating in the corruption, as are the drillers and operators of the extraction. Tho’ you may have accepted and even participated in this kinda corruption during your career in the international oil patch, other folks work to expose and prevent corruption.

    Matter of fact, that seems like the approach that decent folks would take – working to expose and prevent corruption, rather than accepting and participating in corrupt practices, whether at home or abroad.

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