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The Colombia one
Why aren’t more people asking Peter Sutherland about his company's activities in South America?
Eamonn McCann, 21 May 2002
It’s perfectly proper that political parties should make an election issue out of the refusal of an Irish leader to explain what his associates have been up to in Colombia or to spell out the relationship between his organisation and one of the groups involved in the appalling violence currently raging in that misfortunate country.
The man at the centre of a Colombian controversy which shouldn’t be allowed to go away is Peter Sutherland, former Irish Attorney General under Garret FitzGerald, then chairman of Allied Irish Banks at the height of the off-shore account scam, later a European commissioner, subsequently director general of the World Trade Organisation, currently on the board of the multinational Ericsson company and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Oh, and chairman of British Petroleum. A certified member of the executive committee of the world ruling class.
It was in his capacity as chairman of BP that Sutherland became involved last month in what the Times described as a “shouting match” at the Royal Festival Hall in London. A number of shareholders at BP’s annual general meeting on April 18th wanted
answers to questions about the company’s alleged use in Colombia of a security firm with links to right wing paramilitaries who in turn have been accused of horrendous human rights abuses.
Sutherland was having none of it. The allegations were “outrageous”. He ordered the shareholder to “sit down now!”. When the persistent chap continued to demand answers, Sutherland, according to press reports, “finally cracked” and declared, “This AGM is not going to be allowed to become a pantomime”.
Outside the hall, a group of Colombian trade unionists and lawyers held a press conference giving details of BP’s alleged involvement of BP with irregular armed groups in Colombia. BP’s drilling sites are militarised, they maintained. An entire Army brigade, the 16th Brigade, with a notorious human rights record, is dedicated to defending BP installations in the Casanare region, they alleged. The security firm employed by BP, Defence Systems, has been implicated in the killing of members of the Colombian oil workers union, USO, they charged. Both the security forces and the security firm are involved in a war of terror against trade unionists working for BP and against communities protesting that BP’s activities have ruined their livelihoods, they complained.
Although a number of share-holders continued to press their point, little progress was made at the meeting towards establishing how much truth, if any, there might be in these startling allegations. Apart from his generalised dismissal of the suggestions as “outrageous”, Sutherland refused point blank to respond.. “We on the board and...most of the shareholders are not concerned with these matters,” he declared.
Has Sutherland been asked by any mainstream politician or media commentator in Ireland – where, let’s remind ourselves, he was once a member of the cabinet and chief law officer of the State – to even to attempt to rebut the serious changes laid against his subordinates? Of course not. Why then should Gerry Adams be pursued for an explanation of what three Republicans were doing in Colombia?
We cannot say for certain that Adams even knew that the three had travelled to Colombia, much less what they had gotten up to upon arrival. But as chairman of BP Sutherland must have full access to all information about BP’s operations in the country. Why isn’t Miriam O’Callaghan giving him the third degree? Where are the editorials in the Indo and Times? How come the issue hasn’t been raised at the election press conferences of the major parties, as the Republican involvement in Colombia has been?
The reason has to do with the nature of our political system and with the scabrous character of the parties which dominate the system and whose policies mirror its malign priorities.