How Oil Pipelines Threaten Democracy and the Planet’s Survival

Photo Credit: Democracy Now!

October 8, 2013
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AARON MATÉ: Today we spend the hour looking at politics, money and the pursuit of oil, focusing on what’s known as the Oil Road, a series of pipelines stretching from the oil-rich Caspian Sea to Europe. Key nations along the route include Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. The oil giant BP operates the main pipeline.

The oil-rich dictatorship of Azerbaijan is about to hold elections amidst a major decline in the country’s record on human rights and freedom of expression. Located between Iran and Russia and lining the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is a vital energy supplier to Europe and a transit route for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Critics say this has led Western powers to turn a blind eye to abuses since President Ilham Aliyev first came to power in 2003 following the death of his father, the former president. Ilham Aliyev amended the constitution to remove term limits in 2009. On Wednesday, he is set to win his third term in office amidst opposition claims of fraud and intimidation. A spokesperson for his re-election campaign predicted an easy victory.

ALIYEV CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: People do want in Azerbaijan. They would like to have good life, I mean, good salary, prosperity, and we have in Azerbaijan. We have prosperity. We have very high dynamic of development. And it means that the people should support the person who organized this policy.

AARON MATÉ: In the past year and a half, Human Rights Watch has documented Azerbaijan’s arrest of more than 140 high-ranking members of opposition political parties, government critics and journalists. Its government has also taken a tough line on dissent in the oil-drilling area of Baku. And it’s this area that begins the book by one of our guests today, called The Oil Road: Journeys from the Caspian Sea to the City of London.

AMY GOODMAN: In it, co-author James Marriott cites a business think tank that describes how in Azerbaijan, “oil projects sidestep many potential administrative pitfalls and delays. … Environmental and labor laws, for example, can prove elastic.” The book goes on to examine oil companies and their collusion with governments along the oil road from the Caspian to Europe and its impact on the people, ecology and politics of the regions it passes through.

Well, James Marriott joins us now in our studio here in New York, a member of the London-based arts, human rights and environmental justice organization Platform, as well as Anna Galkina, who also joins us. Both James and Anna will be speaking tomorrow as part of a panel here in New York called “Carbon Democracies? Politics, Money, and the Pursuit of Oil.” Also with us is Timothy Mitchell, who will be part of that program, author of the book Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. His previous books include Colonizing Egypt and Rule of Experts. Professor Mitchell teaches—he is a political theorist, historian, professor and chair of Columbia University’s Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! James Marriott, let’s begin with you. Take us to Azerbaijan, a country most people in the United States hardly know about, let alone where it is, why it is so significant in terms of global oil pipeline politics.

JAMES MARRIOTT: It’s very significant because, on the one hand, it holds a chunk, a significant chunk, of the world’s oil market, about one percent, which doesn’t sound very much, but it does swing the price in many ways. And on the other hand, it’s a state on the western side of the Caspian Sea that plays the dominant position for the West’s or Western oil companies’ and Western governments’ intervention into the Caspian region. It’s the most secure, as it were, bridgehead for the West in the region.

Copyright: AlterNet