1970s >> 1971 >> no-798-february-1971

World at Work: Slaughter of South American Indians for Oil

Slaughter of South American Indians for Oil
Oil has been called ‘black gold’. Not an inapposite comparison with the precious metal since it has meant the enrichment of a few, has been fought over by many and has reduced human beings to the most degraded levels of behaviour in the endeavour to get their hands on it.


The blood-stained hand of capitalist violence is now poised ready to deal a death-blow to a small tribe of South American Indians in Colombia. The systematic attempt at extermination of the Guahibo tribe in the Planas region by the Colombian army and settlers came to light as the result of certain Colombian clerics writing for help to the World Council of Churches. Subsequent enquiries on behalf of the Sunday Times (15 November 1970) has substantiated the truth of the letter, which the Colombian Government at first tried to discredit.


To the misfortune of the Indians “their” lands may have oil underneath and it is for this that they are being slaughtered. Many of the seven thousand Indians are virtually the slaves of the settlers and their condition and treatment at the hands of these unscrupulous men is very harsh. Their numbers are also being decimated by disease and malnutrition.


A number of Indians took refuge in the Jungle with a former police inspector sympathetic to them and resisted the settlers with violence. This seems to have given the Colombian government an excuse to crack down on them. As one settler put it: “There will not be any peace in this region until the Indians are gone”— a sentiment echoed all over the world today and in the past to justify the grabbing of the world’s wealth by a few and one to be heard in the future for as long as capitalism lasts.


Trading in the sword for a plough-share


To banish strife and discord from among the nations of the world, as capitalist politicians might put in their more lyrical and biblically inspired moments, has long been one of their dreams, and it was at one time believed that all that had to be done to achieve this happy state was to liberalise trade between countries by abolishing tariffs, import quotas and other barriers to commerce. The principal exponents of this doctrine in Britain were the Liberals. A new variation on this antique theme has been composed by an international lawyer named Samuel Pisar and he has dedicated it to Russia in a book called Commerce and Coexistence.


In Pisar’s opinion the best way of countering and prevailing over the threat posed by Russia is to demonstrate the West’s superior capacity for economic progress. Presumably what Pisar has in mind is that when and if the Russian consumer tastes the fruits of American affluence (no doubt Ralph Nader and Vance Packard can give them some advice on what to choose) the aggression in those breasts will be soothed and lowering brows unknitted by having a good splurge.


So far from bringing peace to the world it is trade and commerce which give rise to the tensions and conflicts between nations, the military conflict of war merely being an extension of the economic struggle going on all the time. One 19th century economist bluntly stated that “When goods cannot cross frontiers, armies will.” Sebastian de Ferranti, chairman and managing director of the electronics firm of Ferranti, also used strong language in describing the real situation when he referred to the support which Britain gives the U.S.A. in a speech at the opening of a new plant in Dundee. “It is an extraordinary state of affairs where our enemy in these advanced fields is encouraged and given financial support to come particularly to Scotland to compete with us” (Times, 23 April 1969). In the same article it was also reported that he had said that in the more advanced fields of technology Britain had only one enemy, that was America with whom we were at war.


The economic causes of the First and Second World Wars have been well documented for all to read, as have the admissions of capitalist statesmen on this subject. Perhaps when Pisar takes off his rose coloured spectacles he may discover this too.


Conserving Conservation


As might be expected in European Conservation Year, no positive steps have been taken to preserve the natural environment from further depredations of industrial expansion. In Britain we have been regaled with news that members of the capitalist class, anxious to make more profit and to help their sacred cow, the balance of payments, are turning their rapacious eyes to one of Britain’s most beautiful areas, Snowdonia, with a view to open-cast mining.


So far all that has been done to this end by Rio Tinto Zinc International Mining Co., the industrial concern involved, has been the placing of two applications for mining tests to be carried out at Coed-y-Brenin Forest and in the estuary of the Mawddach river.


There is considerable unemployment in the area and RTZ are playing upon this to gather local support. Furthermore exploitation of national natural resources could be said to be in the “national interest” by helping the balance of payments which is the concern of British capitalism generally. One of the ploys regularly used in getting new and controversial industrial projects accepted is to emphasise the increase of jobs, and to the unemployed this probably has very great appeal. To the socialist it reveals the degradation and servility of the worker in welcoming his own exploitation and the destruction of natural and social amenities which he and his fellow workers enjoy on rare occasions and then only briefly as a respite from the tedium of everyday life in capitalist society.


What is ultimately at stake here is the entire concept of national parks as areas of countryside of outstanding and unique natural beauty set aside for leisure and recreational purposes and accessible to anyone who cares to visit them. The Conservationists fighting the threat may win the day, but it will not be the last battle they will have to fight against the rapacity of capitalism.


The Elusive Millionaire


They seek him here, they seek him there,
The pressmen seek him everywhere.
Is he in Nassau or has he come back?
Or is he in Vegas playing Black Jack?


The most publicised man in the world today is an American multi-millionaire who has been seen by very few people during the past 13 years (he was last photographed in public in 1957) and has attracted more sensational publicity by trying to avoid it, so it seems, than any film star getting divorced for the umpteenth time.


Howard Hughes first gained a reputation as a film producer and then as a record breaking aeroplane pilot and designer. His fame now largely rests upon his withdrawal from, and lack of contact with, the world outside his hotel suite. The story of Howard Hughes’ career is not the usual romantic one of a man who went from rags to riches but of a man with a wealthy father who went from riches to super riches. No doubt Hughes could always have counted on his father to supply him with a pile of dollars on which to have a soft landing in the event of a fall.


Today Howard Hughes is the owner of a vast business empire whose value runs into hundreds of millions of dollars. To help him run it he employs an army of minions— lawyers, accountants and other experts, such is the complexity of its financial structure and so extensive are its ramifications.


Some of his minions were involved in a “who controls what” dispute which broke out (or, at least became publicly known) early in December over his Las Vegas gambling operations. Hughes, the only one who could settle the dispute, was reported to have gone to the Bahamas. He is said to have disappeared mysteriously on a previous occasion at a time of crisis in his business empire. At one stage the governor of Nevada intervened and personally contacted Hughes. No doubt the break up of Hughes’ gambling and other interests in the state could have had serious repercussions, there, since Hughes is the owner of numerous gambling houses, the state’s largest landowner and one of the largest employers (Times 7 December 1970) as well as having other property interests there.


Howard Hughes’ fortune, like the entire wealth of the rest of the American capitalist class, and elsewhere for that matter, is solely deprived from the exploitation and dispossession of the vast majority of the people by whose labour wealth in all its forms is produced.


The extremes of luxurious living and destitution can nowhere be more clearly seen than in America. Howard Hughes is just one of many Americans possessed of immense wealth, perhaps it can all best be summed up in these words “One man’s wealth is many men’s poverty”.