Bush chooses oil over democracy in Sao Tome

Forgotten, that is, until mid-summer. All of a sudden, the former Portuguese colony of under 200,000 people snagged a few headlines when a bloodless coup d’etat unseated the popularly elected government and threatened to wipe out the nation’s long tradition of democratic rule. Under significant pressure-suspended aid and diplomatic isolation-from a large contingent of countries and international organizations, on July 23, the insurgents agreed to relinquish control of Sao Tome’s eponymous capitol city.

But one nation was conspicuously absent from the coalition supporting the return of democratic governance.

This time, the U.S. wasn’t among the willing. Instead of calling the coup a coup, the U.S. State Department tip-toed around the Sao Tome issue. To use poker lingo, the Bush administration refused to ante up to what was really going on. But why?

As headlines in mainstream U.S. papers emphatically blared, “Military Coup Ousts Government of Sao Tome in West Africa” (The New York Times, July 17, 2003), why did Secretary Powell’s spokesman Richard Boucher mumble when asked, “Have you made a determination yet on what actually happened [in Sao Tome] and whether any aid will be affected?”

Instead of resolutely declaring the hostile ouster of the government of Sao Tome an egregious breach of democratic principles, Boucher offered a muddled statement full of stall tactics: “In terms of the legal requirements of Section 508 of the Foreign Operations Act � we and our lawyers are starting to assess the situation. We’ll be looking at the activity in Sao Tome in relation to our law and will make appropriate determinations as events proceed.”

“Assess the situation”? “The activity in Sao Tome”? To most citizens of the world, the “situation” and “activity” in Sao Tome seemed clear-it was a coup, plain and simple. But for some reason, it wasn’t plain and simple to the State Department. Now I’m not much of a poker player myself, but I think I can see through this diplomatic charade.

But before I reveal my little theory, I’d like to place a disclaimer on my political leanings: although I may subscribe to the ideals of the great liberal party, I do not wholly associate myself with those who protested Operation Iraqi Freedom as an attempt to trade “blood for oil.”

This time, however, I have my own oil conspiracy theory. You see, Sao Tome has long been sitting idly atop massive oil reserves. Sao Tome and Nigeria recently unveiled plans to uncork the reserves in the coming months and years. In fact, it was probably the lure of oil wealth that spurred the insurgents to stage the coup in the first place. Instead of allowing the money generated from oil to relieve the intense poverty suffered by the inhabitants of Sao Tome, the rebels wanted to grab more than their fair share of the pot. President Bush should have been aghast. After all, he has answered critics of his policy in Iraq by declaring that Iraqi oil belongs to the Iraqi people, not to Saddam Hussein or the U.S. or anyone else.

So why doesn’t the President believe that the oil of Sao Tome belongs to the people of Sao Tome and not to anyone else? Let me spell things out.

The U.S. didn’t want to step on the toes of the coup perpetrators, afraid that by doing so, she would alienate herself from the spoils. Within 10 years, experts predict that the U.S. will purchase up to 25 percent of its oil from Africa. A decade or so after that, who knows how much oil will flow from the Forgotten Continent to the factories and gas stations of America? Maybe oil will put Sao Tome on the map-or, I should say, maybe it will make people realize that Sao Tome is on the map.

If President Bush’s foreign policy based on human welfare and democracy and freedom is to be taken seriously, he cannot compromise his ideals for the sake of America’s oil interests.

I hesitate to say that the President must adopt a foreign policy that does not kowtow to oil interests because his political career does not depend on it. Though Bush may face a challenge in 2004, I’m willing to gamble that the Sao Tome “situation” will not catapult a Democrat into the White House. Plus, the point is moot by now. The rightful government of Sao Tome has been restored, and the whole fiasco is a distant memory.

So, if you think that Sao Tome is as insignificant as the speck of land that it occupies, you may be perfectly correct. In fact, you may never hear about the tiny little country again in your entire life. But it would please me greatly if President Bush would change his ways and adopt a foreign policy that consistently rewards the ideals he so often espouses in his platitudinal speeches.

It’s the least the most powerful man in the universe could do for the people of Sao Tome and Principe.