Corporation Spotlight and Lessons from Bolivia
Bechtel Corporation isn’t a company that comes to mind when you talk about the military-industrial-congressional complex. It doesn’t make bombs or guns, like Lockheed Martin or Honeywell. It isn’t a private “security” firm like the infamous Blackwater. Nor does it have impossibly obvious connections to Presidential administrations like Halliburton.
But Bechtel is a poster child for another part of the military-industrial complex. The MICC doesn’t only shape U.S. policy to go to war or attack foreign countries; it also shapes U.S. policy regarding countries we’ve destroyed. And if the countries we’ve invaded and/or destroyed have oil under their soil, then we’ll take a bit of that too. All’s fair in love and war.
First, let’s take a look at Bechtel’s Board of Directors. It is a classic example of the “revolving door” of government agencies, military branches and private interests. Some of the government positions are not commonly known and I will not go into their descriptions here, but you’re encouraged to dig deeper to see how deep this rabbit hole goes.
- David O’Reilly is the former chairman & CEO of Chevron Corporation (Chevron recently discovered natural gas off the coast of Australia, oh boy).
- George P. Shultz is the former U.S. Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, former president of Bechtel, as well as a former board member of the prominent investment bank Dillon, Read & Co. Inc. Dillon, Read & Co. is now owned by the Swiss Bank Corporation.
- The late Caspar Weinberger served as the United States Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan. Prior to this position, he was the Vice President, Director, and General Counsel of the Bechtel Group of companies.
- David Welch was an assistant Secretary of State under George W Bush.
- Gen. John J. Sheehan, USMC (ret.) is a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, former member of the Defense Policy Board, and a former Special Advisor to Asia for the U.S. Defense Department. He’s also a former General Manager of the Petroleum and Chemical Business Unit for Europe/Africa/Middle East/South West Asia and was also a Bechtel partner.
- Ross J. Connelly is a former CEO of Bechtel Energy Resources Corporation. He served on the Overseas Private Investment Corporation under George W. Bush.
- Kenneth Davis is a former Bechtel senior vice-president and is the former U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary.
- Riley P. Bechtel is the CEO of Bechtel. With a net worth of at LEAST $3 billion (in 2009, he was worth $5.5 billion – where did the other $2.5 billion go?). In February 2003, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Export Council, which advises the president on international trade issues.
Bechtel has over 60 joint ventures and subsidiaries listed on their Wikipedia page. Their specialties and missions focus on energy; direct investments, venture and growth capital; conceptual design, process engineering, process technology, and consulting services to the energy industry; underground construction services; and on and on.
After the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Bechtel was one of the first companies awarded a contract to rebuild it. The contract was for $680 million. The next year, Bechtel was awarded an additional $1.8 billion contract. As you may remember, Bechtel was forced to pull out of Iraq in 2006 due to violence on the ground. Fifty-two of it’s contracted workers were killed during the contract.
Over a decade prior, after the first Iraq War, Bechtel was given a $2.3 billion contract – partially to execute “the most successful oil recovery in history“, according to Bechtel’s website. Good to know.
In 2008, Bechtel was awarded a 4-year contract to build the Keystone Pipeline, from Alberta, Canada to the U.S. Midwest. Continued pipeline construction was recently stalled by large protests in Washington, DC….but wait….
Bolivia: Who’s water? Our water!
Around the turn of the 21st century, Bechtel was contracted to privatize the water service in Cochabamba, Bolivia’s third largest city. Technically, the contract was awarded to Aguas del Tunari, a company that Bechtel has a 27.5 percent share in. There were two main parts of the contract that the Bolivians did not like: collecting rain water was made illegal (!?); and water rates increased by about 50%.
Soon after, civil unrest broke out to what was later called the “Cochabamba Water Wars.” There were large protests and several general strikes that shut down the city. Bolivia’s government declared martial law. Protestors were assaulted, kidnapped and killed by police and soldiers. After five months of protest and chaos, Bechtel had to back out of Bolivia. This was truly an unprecedented act in modern world history.
“This is the first time that a major corporation like Bechtel has had to back down from a major trade case as the result of global citizen pressure,” said Jim Shultz, executive director of The Democracy Center in Cochabamba, and a leader of the global effort.
Canada: We Don’t Want Your Dirty Oil
Thinking about the Bolivian people’s victory in regaining control over their own natural resources has me looking at this Tarsands deal in a new light. A couple months ago, outcry from the American people forced Obama and Congress to “postpone” work on the Tar Sands Keystone Pipeline. Is this victory? Yes, for now.
Bechtel and multinationals of the like are looking for profit overseas, and here at home. And this dirty oil pipeline, which would run from Alaska to Texas, is just another symptom of the military-industrial complex and living in a war economy. Before the Payroll Tax holiday was worked out, the pro- Tarsands folks were trying to hold the Payroll tax cuts hostage for a Tarsands Pipeline deal.
We have much more in common with the people of Bolivia than with the Board of Directors of Bechtel. We are the 99%. Buried in generations of American Exceptionalism we have a largely unsung story of inspiration from our southern neighbors in Bolivia. Despite corruption within the U.S.-approved Bolivian government, the Bolivian people preserved. They preserved and prevailed. Lesson learned.
Who’s oil? Our oil. I hope the movement in the U.S. is able to keep Bechtel and the like off our green grass and farmland in the same way our brothers and sisters in Bolivia were able to keep Bechtel’s hands off their water.
Charlie Edelen is the Communications Organizer for Jobs with Justice and Peace Economy Project Board Member