The rainforest And A Gas Pipeline To Enrich His Friends
Gumbel in Los Angeles
30 July 2003
George Bush is seeking funds for a controversial project to drive gas
pipelines from pristine rainforests in the Peruvian Amazon to the coast.
The plan will enrich
some of Mr Bush's closest corporate campaign contributors while risking
the destruction of rainforest, threatening its indigenous peoples and
endangering rare species on the coast.
Among the beneficiaries
would be two Texas energy companies with close ties to the White House,
Hunt Oil and Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Vice-President
Dick Cheney's old company, Haliburton, which is rebuilding Iraq's oil
The pipeline slices
through some of the most biologically diverse places on earth. Their
remoteness has preserved an extraordinarily rich ecosystem in the coastal
Paracas reserve, which is home to such rare species as Humboldt penguins,
sea lions and green sea turtles.
The Camisea natural
gas project - with reserves of 13,000 billion cubic feet of gas - has
already scared off two big investors, Citigroup and the Overseas Private
Investment Corporation. According to an internal report by the US Export
Import Bank, obtained by the lobby group Amazon Watch, proposals to
mitigate the environmental impact of the project are "woefully
inadequate" and will lead to mudslides, destroy habitats and spread
diseases among indigenous peoples.
Friends of the Earth
describes one threatened area as "one of the world's most pristine
tropical rainforests", home to the Nahua, Kirineri, Nanti, Machiguenga
and Yine indigenous groups. Past contact between indigenous peoples
and loggers has proven disastrous - 42 per cent of the Nahua died from
diseases contracted from outsiders in the 1980s.
Already, the project,
which is 60 per cent complete, has run into difficulties, including
the kidnapping of 60 pipeline workers last week. They were freed later
by the Peruvian military.
Bush administration plans to approve financial support for the project,
possibly as early as this week, via both the US Export Import Bank and
the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The two institutions, which
are due to make their own final decisions in the next couple of weeks,
are expected to put up about $300m (£185m) in loans and guarantees,
which would in turn pave the way for financing the rest of the $1.6bn
Ray Hunt, chairman
of Hunt Oil, was a so-called "pioneer" who raised more than
$100,000 for Mr Bush in 2000. He and his wife recently gave the maximum
personal contribution to Mr Bush's re-election campaign.
Kellogg Brown &
Root would not be involved in the pipeline but are well placed to build
a $1bn natural gas plant on the Peruvian coast if it goes ahead. The
ties linking KBR to Mr Cheney have prompted the same charges of favouritism
that surrounded the choice of Haliburton to oversee Iraq's oil fields.
The president of the Export Import Bank, Philip Merrill, is a close
associate of Mr Cheney. And the chief US representative at the IDB,
Jose Fourquet, is also a Bush "pioneer" who helped mobilise
Hispanic support in 2000.
The Camisea project
has raised eyebrows in Washington as well as among campaigners in the
Amazon, not least because banks and governments usually consider environmental
impacts very carefully before approving such ventures.
The US Agency for
International Development is against the project and several senior
congressional leaders have urged the US Treasury to delay a final decision
until further reviews have taken place.
The Export Impact
Bank's report conceded that key decisions were made for economic reasons,
that massive erosion had already occurred on the pipeline route and
that unique biodiversity faced "significant, long-term and largely
irreversible" deterioration. Three lobby groups - Amazon Watch,
Amazon Alliance and Environmental Defence - said last week that the
project was causing food shortages and disease in the Urubamba valley.
The Bush administration
is reticent about its plans but is keen to exploit new sources of energy
to reduce dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Its ambition to open up
the Alaskan reserve proved controversial, and has so far been blocked
by the US Congress.