Big Oil and James Baker Target the Western Sahara
Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2003
By WAYNE MADSEN, January 8, 2003
In the midst of America's international campaign against terrorism, the Bush administration is permitting Big Oil to legitimize the illegal occupation of an invaded country--Western Sahara. Formerly known as Spanish Sahara and invaded by Morocco in 1975 (the same year Henry Kissinger acquiesced to Indonesia's invasion and annexation of East Timor and India's annexation of the Himalayan Kigdom of Sikkim)), Western Sahara's occupation by Morocco has neither been recognized by the United Nations nor the Organization of African Unity. The latter actually recognizes the independence of Western Sahara's exiled Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which is headquartered in remote and squalid desert refugee camps on the Algerian side of the Western Sahara-Algeria border.
In the New World Order of the Bush family, the Western Saharans have little future. That is because the lifeblood of what it means to be a Bush--oil--has been discovered off the coast of Western Sahara. Although Morocco is the illegal occupier of Western Sahara, that did not stop the Oklahoma City-based Kerr McGee Corporation (the company infamously portrayed in the movie "Silkwood") from signing an off-shore exploration deal with Morocco on September 25, 2001, just days after the terrorist attacks on the United States. The timing for Kerr McGee could not have been better.
The group fighting for Western Sahara independence, POLISARIO, once waged a bitter guerrilla war against Morocco. In 1991, POLISARIO signed a cease fire with Morocco but Moroccan troops remained in the disputed territory.
Meanwhile, Morocco continued to pour thousands of native Moroccans into the territory. The 1991 cease fire agreement with Morocco was to have resulted in a referendum on the territory's future. However, Morocco kept delaying the vote until it could salt the territory with enough of its own emigres until they constituted a majority, thus ensuring a final vote would result in voter approval for merger with Morocco.
In 1997, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who, ironically, was awarded the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, named former Secretary of State James Baker as his personal envoy to settle the Western Sahara problem. Baker, who would later serve as George W. Bush's fix-it man in Florida's disputed presidential election, began considering rather novel ideas to settle the Western Sahara problem.
Unfortunately, for the Sahrawis, Baker's ideas were all stamped with the imprimatur of Morocco.
Baker, who is as connected to the Houston oil big wigs as J.R. Ewing was to the oil czars in the TV show "Dallas," has his own close ties to Kerr McGee.
His James Baker Institute at Rice University funded a study Called "Strategic Energy Policy: Challenges for the 21st Century." The author of that report is Matt Simmons, President of Simmons and Company Investment Bankers and member of the Board of Directors of Kerr McGee.
It also helps the cause of Kerr McGee that Baker's former spokesperson at the Departments of State and Treasury and close personal friend, Margaret Tutwiler, serves as the U.S. ambassador to Morocco. One former associate of Tutwiler confided that it was no coincidence that landed Tutwiler in Morocco, "She was obviously placed there by Baker and his oil buddies to help cut oil deals." Tutwiler is not only in a commanding position to influence U.S. policy on Western Sahara but she can count upon one of her best friends, former White House Communications Director and close Bush confidant Karen Hughes, to ensure that Morocco's case receives the personal attention of President Bush.
The plan that Baker drew up for Western Sahara (while he was ensconced with his friends at his Jackson Hole, Wyoming ranch) will undoubtedly result in the territory's eventual merger with Morocco. Approved by the UN Security Council, with the strong support of France, whose TotalFinaElf conglomerate also just signed an offshore oil exploration, the plan calls for a five-year delay for a final referendum. In the meantime, Western Sahara will have a weak territorial assembly that will be packed with loyalists of Morocco's King Mohammed, a close U.S. ally. When the referendum is finally held, sometime around 2006 or 2007, all the Moroccan squatters and occupying troops will be allowed to vote.
On January 7, 2003, the UN announced that Baker would be visiting Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, and Western Sahara to revive his peace plan. But it now seems that with impending war with Iraq and the paralyzing Venezuelan oil strike, Baker is under pressure from his friends in the Bush administration to bring about the commencement of oil drilling off of Western Sahara. Thus the sudden new interest by Baker in a Western Sahara "peace" deal.
U.S. oil companies are chomping at the bit. In its Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Kerr McGee continues to list Western Sahara's Boujdour block (where it has been given permission to drill by Morocco) as being within Moroccan territory, a claim neither supported by the United Nations nor officially recognized by the United States.
Although Baker was to have been an honest broker, even he had to admit to the U.N. Security Council in 2001 that the plan had been heavily influenced by Morocco. Since Bush has enlisted the support of Algeria's President Abdelaziz Boutefllika in the worldwide war against terrorism, it is clear that he was pressured to limit Algeria's historic support for POLISARIO and the Sahrawis. Bouteflika even endorsed Baker's plan. French President Jacques Chirac has referred to Western Sahara as Morocco's "southern provinces," a clear indication of where the West sees the future of the territory.
For its part, the Western Saharans are claiming the deals between Morocco and TotalFinaElf and Kerr McGee are in violation of international law and previous UN resolutions. The Sahrawi President, Mohammed Abdelaziz, condemned the oil deals as an illegal "provocation." The Sahrawi cause is supported by a number of NGOs, former French First Lady Danielle Mitterand, and East Timor's leadership, which knows all too well about being held hostage by oil interests and brutal occupying dictatorships allied with the West. But the oil companies and the Baker-Bush team still holds the trump card. If the Sahrawis, out of desperation, break the cease fire and go to war with Morocco, the anti-terrorism measures undertaken by the United States may seal their fate.
All the State Department has to do is simply declare POLISARIO and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic terrorist organizations. Their international assets would be frozen, their leaders would be arrested and could be tried by secret U.S. military tribunals and executed, and Big Oil and Morocco would rule the day in Western Sahara. Even groups that support their cause could be targeted and their assets seized. Furthermore, the American public, conditioned to be suspicious of all things Arab, would have little sympathy for nomadic Arabs fighting against a U.S. "ally." It is a scenario that could be replayed in every part of the world where local secessionist groups are pitted against brutal regimes and greedy multinational corporations--the Aceh region of northern Sumatra, West Papua, and Nigeria's Delta Region, to name but a few.
Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and columnist. He wrote the introduction to Forbidden Truth.
Reproduced from counterpunch with permission from Wayne Madsen