History of BP and Transocean

Yestesrday’s Times had an article about the alleged misdeeds of Transocean, the company that owned (still owns, I suppose) the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded in April, setting into motion the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history (still underway). The company has been accused of: doing business with Myanmar, Syria, and Iran; having ties to two men who have laundered money for the brutal Myanmar regime; tax fraud in Norway; fraud to avoid paying for pollution clean-up in the United States; tax abuses in the United States and Brazil.  Read all about it here.

That reminded me of a really great article from the United Electrical Workers website: “BP–A Long, Bloody History of Reckless Greed,” by Al Hart.  Did everyone but me know about the role British Petroleum played in Iran’s history? The company’s original name was the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and after stealing the Iranian people’s oil for decades, it had a central role in the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh, the “George Washington of Iran” (as Time magazine called him back in the day). Here are some of the key paragraphs from the article:


Iranians overwhelmingly supported Mossadegh and his policies. He advanced the rights of women, enacted sick pay and unemployment compensation for workers, and freed peasants from forced labor for landlords. But with the cooperation of the Shah and key military leaders, a few CIA agents in August 1953 overthrew Mossadegh and killed democracy in Iran. The new regime arrested the 71-year-old Mossadegh, tried and convicted him of treason, and sentenced him to three years in prison and life under house arrest. He died in 1967.

The coup installed General Fazlollah Zahedi as prime minister, but he lasted only two years. The Shah regained the absolute power of earlier shahs, and he hired and fired prime ministers at will. Officers loyal to Mossadegh were shot, as were other democrats and dissidents, and for the next 26 years the Shah ruled through the terror of his secret police, the Savak.

Iranian democracy died so the British could own Iran’s oil. But because the U.S. government overthrew Mossadegh, the British lost their monopoly. AIOC – renamed British Petroleum in 1954 – got 40 percent control of Iran’s oil. Another 40 percent went to the five major American oil companies, and the remaining 20 percent to Royal Dutch Shell and the French Petroleum Company now known as Total.

In 1963 the Shah gained a resolute enemy when his police arrested Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who as a young Shiite cleric had opposed Mossadegh. But the 1979 Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Shah included much more than Islamic fundamentalists. In the mass demonstrations of 1978 and ’79, many carried pictures of Mossadegh. This was both a protest against his overthrow and a call for the kind of secular democracy he had represented.

The first post-revolution governments were dominated by people associated with Mossadegh and his principles, including Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan and President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr. But when President Carter allowed the ex-Shah to come to the U.S. for medical treatment, many Iranians feared a repeat of 1953 – a U.S. coup to restore the Shah. A group of Islamic militants seized the U.S. embassy – the place from which the 1953 coup had been organized – and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The hostage crisis doomed Carter’s re-election – and enabled Islamic fundamentalists around Khomeini to consolidate power.

The past 31 years of bad U.S.-Iranian relations have their roots in the CIA overthrow of Mossadegh, on behalf of an arrogant British oil company. Few Americans remember what happened in Iran in 1953, but nearly all Iranians do. When U.S. presidents preach about the virtues of democracy, it sounds like hypocrisy to millions of people around the world who know that Iran once had the beginnings of a democracy, but the U.S. government killed it.

Read the rest of the article–well worth reading (unless everyone besides me knew all this already). So great that it is on the UE website.  I found the article via Portside Labor;  one pet peeve I’ve had about Portside and Portside Labor as news aggregators is that the vast majority of the articles they respost as “material of interest to the left–things that will help them to interpret the world, and to change it” (as their website puts it) are from the New York Times, Washington Post, etc.–outlets that hardly need more of a megaphone, and that are hardly ideological left, or even neutral.

Finally, I can’t repost it (because I don’t think it’s online), but there’s a good article on the Gulf disaster in the June 16-30 issue of CounterPunch, “Oil Drilling Under Clinton, Bush, and Obama: Bad to Worse to Catastrophic.”  (Check out the article in that issue by Eugene P. Coyle about cutting the work week as a way of dealing with unemployment.) Here’s the CounterPunch website.

–Chris Sturr

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