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EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Touch of Crude

American bankers handled his loot. Oil companies play by his rules. The Bush administration woos him. How the pursuit of oil is propping up the West African dictatorship of Teodoro Obiang.


by Peter MaassMother Jones Magazine

The red dirt of the jungle meets a paved road on the outskirts of Ebebiyin, where a national celebration is about to begin. Women are singing and swaying in an African rhythm that is hard to resist, even though their lyrics are not of a can’t-stop-dancing variety: “We await you, Mr. President,” they sing in Fang, the main language in Equatorial Guinea. “We are happy to see you; you are the people’s president.” In the distance, a cloud of Martian dust heralds the arrival of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

The president is accompanied by 40 vehicles and enough firepower to start a small war. In the lead are army-green trucks, with soldiers clad in black ninja outfits. Because the president doesn’t entirely trust his military, the jeeps in front of his Lexus SUV bear his Moroccan security guards, many of them perched on the running boards, clutching Heckler & Koch assault rifles as they scan the horizon.

The motorcade halts at the edge of the town and its chickens-in-the-road squalor. Obiang strolls up the street, shaking hands with people who line the uneven sidewalks, many clad in T-shirts and dresses bearing his image. His bearing is regal. If he has any anxiety because of a recent coup attempt, which involved a gang of couldn’t-shoot-straight mercenaries from South Africa and Britain (allegedly financed by the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher), he does not betray it. And if his mind is troubled by a recent U.S. Senate investigation detailing how he siphoned millions from his country’s treasury with the help of Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C., and how he and members of his inner circle extracted large and unorthodox payments from American oil companies, that, too, does not show.

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