Sunday, March 18, 2012

17 Oil Executives Detained in Brazil

This time it's 17 foreign executives (including Americans) from Chevron and the oil driller Transocean, whose passports the Brazilians have confiscated because of a relatively small offshore oil spill (2,400 barrels) in an area known for natural seepages of oil from natural cracks on the ocean floor. Here's a link.

The Brazilian authorities say they are planning to indict the 17 because of the leak, most of which has been mopped up already by the companies. The spill occurred in November. Meanwhile, Brazilian oil officials say that a small new leak that has been discovered was caused by natural seepages from underwater rock.

It's still another example of Brazil unilaterally and rashly detaining foreigners, in actions that seem to be partly motivated by perceived impressions that foreigners were "dishonoring" Brazil, the most thin-skinned country in the Americas. Brazil authorities are extremely quick to decide that "insolence" is a reason to do pretty much whatever impulse tells them to do.

Case in point in the oil-spill incident: The top executive of Chevron's Latin American businesses, Ali Moshiri, was quoted after the spill by the Wall Street Journal as saying: "I’ve never seen a spill this small with this size of reaction."

Oops, "honor" evidently was once again offended in Brazil.

"The companies acted in a frivolous, irresponsible manner in the incident," a federal police investigator, Fábio Scliar, told the Brazilian TV news outlet Globo.

Ah, brings back memories for me. I recall the Brazilian defense minister, Wonderful Waldir Pires, telling Brazilian media that I was irresponsible and "frivolous," back when I was disputing, in the U.S., crazy Brazilian allegations against the seven of us Americans who survived the horrific mid-air collision over the Amazon that killed 154 in 2006.

Among the bizarre and totally false allegations, widely reported in Brazil, was that I had confirmed the insane charge that we in the American plane were flying loop d loops over the Amazon when the collision occurred. When I ridiculed that idea, Wonderful Waldir -- who had been the first to suggest it -- took grave offense.

Back then, Brazil confiscated the passports of and detailed me and the other badly shaken surviving American passengers, without charges, for three days. The two American pilots were detailed for two months, till the authorities could cobble together charges of "failing to ensure the safety of Brazil's skies." The American pilots were subsequently convicted, in absentia, of criminal charges in the collision -- even though the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the crash laid the blame (as I had) on systemic and operational errors by Brazil's military-run air traffic control system.

As I have noted here, I was subsequently convicted of causing dishonor to Brazil in a Brazilian court -- for reporting and commentary made by me in the U.S. that was fully protected by free speech guarantees of the U.S. First Amendment.

Oh, and among other cases, look at at this one, involving a Dutch-born scientist convicted of insulting Brazil's honor by holding a worldwide Internet auction among fellow scientists to name two new species of monkeys he'd discovered in the Amazon. The proceeds were to go toward helping to preserve monkey habitat in the Amazon. The scientist, who had earlier been named as one of the "Heroes for the Planet" by Time Magazine, got 17 years in prison. He accused the Brazilian courts of "criminalizing science." The scientist, Marc van Roosmalen, fled. [The UK Guardian newspaper reported in 2007 charges that Brazilian politicians in the Amazon region has jumped on a "bio-piracy" bandwagon, "stirring xenophobic fears" -- never a difficult thing to do in Brazil.]

This, too, involving three American college students on a scientific field trip, arrested on a bogus technicality and held indefinitely without charges. The students "must remain in Brazil awaiting the outcome of the legal process. In Brazil this happens very slowly, and could take months or even years. In the meantime these student's lives and academic work are on hold," according to a protest statement signed by the academic geological community around the world. Those students were released about a month later, though with charges pending, in a case that still has academic researchers shaking their heads.

Or how about this, involving two American federal air marshals arrested and with their passports confiscated in Brazil after they arrested the wife of a Brazilian judge aboard a Continental flight for being violently drunk and disruptive on the flight. The marshals subsequently managed to flee the country using alternate travel documents rather than, they said, face "trumped-up charges." CNN says of that case: "The incident has impacted air marshal operations on flights to Brazil, officials said, and air marshals contacted by CNN said the case raises questions about Brazil's willingness to support future law enforcement actions by U.S. officials on international flights."

Back now to the oil-spill case. Brazilian authorities accused Chevron of lying when they said the spill was relatively small. The always excitable, always xenophobic Brazil media also became enraged when one of the executives chose not to reply in Portuguese to questions.

From the Wall Street Journal in December: "And the news media lambasted George Buck, the head of Chevron’s Brazil operations, after he and Mr. Moshiri were summoned to Brazil’s Congress to discuss the spill, questioning why Mr. Buck relied on a translator instead of speaking Portuguese."

Dishonor to the nation! Funny, as I have said, how a country and news media that bent its knees to a brutal military dictatorship for nearly a quarter century is so quick to take insult from outsiders these days.

Of course, the media are in their usual mode of disdain toward foreigners. From the always-dependable Globo today, a sneer that the American oil company, of course, is seeking to defend itself and claim that the seepage was natural, and self-defense seems to be regarded as indication of guilt down that rabbit hole: "Chevron has been using a strategy to defend itself, blaming the faults of the region," Globo notes (italics mine).

Meanwhile in Brazil there are ongoing nasty disputes with foreigners over the World Cup tournament scheduled there for 2014, as well as internal scandals. There are also growing concerns about the 2016 Summer Olympics scheduled for Brazil.

Any American planning to travel to Brazil and saying anything about it needs to hold tight onto their passports.

And not just because of rampant street crime.



ChefNick said...


"Back then, Brazil confiscated the passports of and detailed me "

" . . . DETAINED . . ."

ChefNick said...

I foresee a complete disaster for any multinational event being held in Brazil. Any entity planning to do business in any kind of a massive way such as will be necessary for any Olympics organizations would probably have better luck shooting for holding their event in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Having travelled the world extensively in my lifetime and having been in every possible range of countries, I would say that possibly the most dangerous type of place for a first-world (read: Europ/N. America/Australia) citizen to be in is one that masquerades as a first-world country but operates as a barely developing country, complete with all that entails: greed, corruption, rampant crime, high levels of nationalism, and as you’ve repeatedly stressed, xenophobia. That would be Brazil in a nutshell.

At least Iran doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is and try to grab a place on the world stage of civilized nations, but Brazil certainly aspires to.

I’d rather take a hiking trip in the mountains of Sudan than walk the streets of downtown Saõ Paulo.