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EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Growing Suppression, Soaring Poverty in Tiny Oil-Rich

Tito Drago

MADRID, Nov 11 2004 (IPS) - The dictator of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, is stepping up suppression of opposition, while social conditions in the tiny West African nation are worsening, an opposition leader told IPS on his visit to Spain.

Parliamentary Deputy Plácido Micó, president of the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) party, and his fellow CPDS lawmaker Celestino Bakale are the only two members of the opposition in the 100-seat parliament of Equatorial Guinea.

The elections held on Apr. 25, 2003, in which Obiang was re-elected, were fraudulent, "just as the international observers who were present" at the time stated, Micó said Wednesday in Madrid.

The police in Equatorial Guinea detained medical doctor Wenceslao Mansogo Alo on Monday, although he was released shortly afterwards. Then Pío Miguel Obama Oyana, a city councillor in Malabo, the capital, was arrested. Both are members of the CPDS leadership.

Obama Oyana is still in custody, even though he was arrested without a warrant, "and was not caught committing any crime – which clearly proves the arbitrary nature of the regime and the absolute lack of legal guarantees, an assault on the rights and freedoms of Equatoguineans," said Micó.

"Obiang’s military regime is obsessed with making the CPDS, the country’s only opposition party, disappear," he added, to explain the motivation behind the arrests of opposition leaders.

"They try to implicate our companions in coup-plotting activities, or accuse them of being friends of mercenaries, even though they know that we neither share the positions of the regime nor those of violent conspirators," he said.

Micó was released from prison last August under a presidential pardon after spending over a year behind bars. He has been thrown in jail at least eight times.

"We are in favour of peace and are waging a peaceful struggle, to achieve respect for human rights and the rule of democracy in our country," said Micó.

President Obiang has governed since 1979, when he overthrew his uncle, Francisco Macías Nguema, whose regime had been sustained through violent repression of opponents since the country won independence from Spain in 1968.

Not long after the 1979 coup d’etat, it became clear that Obiang would follow in Macías’ authoritarian footsteps.

In 1996, the outlook for the country’s economy abruptly changed when U.S. oil giant Mobil Oil Corp. announced the discovery of sizeable oil reserves. And in 2001, large natural gas reserves were found.

Currently engaged in offshore drilling in Equatorial Guinea are the U.S. corporations Marathon Oil, Amerada Hess, ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, Vanco Energy and Devon Energy, South Africa’s Energy Africa (a subsidiary of Britain’s Tullow Oil) and the Malaysian firm Petronas.

Equatorial Guinea is now the third-largest oil producer in Africa after Nigeria and Angola.

This year, a report by a U.S. Senate committee revealed that hundreds of millions of dollars in oil industry revenues were deposited in accounts in the names of Obiang and his relatives and associates in the Washington-based Riggs Bank.

The Senate report said the accounts were used to filter oil profits for private use. Obiang has denied the allegations.

"Our country is immensely rich, with a population that is impoverished and oppressed to an extreme that can seem incredible to those who have not seen it for themselves," said Micó.

According to United Nations figures, 80 percent of the country’s wealth is in the hands of just five percent of the population of half a million.

"The educational system is in ruins, with children who have no schools to attend," said Micó. "Even in the capital, many schools lack benches, and the children must sit on the floor."

"We have great wealth, especially oil, which is currently exploited by American companies, but it only feeds government corruption, which is spiralling upwards," he added.

Because of the high levels of corruption, there is no spending on social programmes, including health. "Even in Malabo, not to mention the hinterland, if someone has to be taken to a hospital for an emergency, the medicines must be purchased in a pharmacy," said the opposition leader.

"This not only leads to a loss of time, but the patient or their family must have the money to buy the medicines, because unlike in other countries, the state does not provide them. Which is an especially serious problem because of the AIDS and malaria epidemics that we suffer," said Micó.

"Opening the door to economic and social development depends on democratisation and respect for human rights," he underlined.

"We, who are legislators, are subjected to terrible harassment. Before we left Malabo, we had to explain why we would not attend the parliamentary session in homage to (Robert) Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, and we were threatened with reprisals.

"Besides the fact that we were not formally called on to attend, we see no reason to go and listen to someone who has so few democratic credentials," said Micó, referring to the Zimbabwean leader, who is currently visiting Equatorial Guinea.

The opposition lawmakers hope that the Spanish government of socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who took office in April, "will be better than the government of (right-wing José María) Aznar. That was the impression I got from my interview with the secretary of foreign relations, Bernardino León," said Micó.

The legislators will report on the dismal conditions in their country at a Socialist International council meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa next weekend.

"All politicians must clearly understand that they must be committed to supporting democratisation and respect for human rights in our country," said Micó.

The parliamentary deputy marked his distance from the self-proclaimed government in exile, led in Madrid by refugee Severo Moto, saying "it has contributed nothing to our struggle for democracy."

"It is a government made up of three political groups, even though there are many more, and our fellow countrymen in exile were not even consulted when it was set up," he said.

"The creation of the government (in exile)…gives Obiang a pretext to divert attention from what is really happening in the country," he maintained.

"The central problem lies in the fact that the dictator not only does not want to loosen the chains, but wants to squeeze even harder, because he is afraid that any democratic development would put an end to his regime and his privileges," he said.

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