The term “evil corporation” has become somewhat of a cliché over the years. However, in some cases this term is far too kind. The Bechtel Group of San Francisco is a prime example.
George Shultz, former Bechtel president, was Secretary of State under President Reagan. In November 1983, Shultz received an intelligence report detailing almost daily chemical weapon attacks by Saddam Hussein against Iran. No action was taken against Saddam, perhaps due to the very close relationship Bechtel was trying to develop with Saddam. Later, in December 1983, Reagan’s envoy Donald Rumsfeld (yes, the very same) proposed that Bechtel work with Hussein to build an oil pipeline from Iraq to Jordan. Unfortunately for Bechtel, Hussein dropped the deal because he felt that Bechtel was overpricing the project, up to twice what the actual construction would cost.
In 1988, after Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds with chemical weapons, Bechtel won a contract with Saddam to build a chemical plant in Iraq. (It should be noted that Bechtel was named by the United Nations last year as one of the corporate providers of weapons of mass destruction to Saddam.) Yet, fortune again did not shine on Bechtel. The company was forced to halt construction after Iraq invaded Kuwait because Saddam began arresting Bechtel employees.
At this point Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials could hardly control their anger as major contracts with Hussein were lost to companies from France, Russia, and China. So Rumsfeld and his corporate friends, including George Shultz from Bechtel, demanded that “Hussein must go.”
In March 2003 the Bush administration attacked Iraq and heavily bombed water production facilities. In April 2003 the administration awarded Bechtel a $680 million contract to rebuild Iraq’s water systems.
Oh, Bechtel loves water. And Iraq isn’t the only place that the company attempts to profit from it. According to Vijay Prashad, author of “Fat Cats and Running Dogs: The Enron Stage of Capitalism,” Bechtel was a major player in the water privatization scandal in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The government of dictator Hugo Banzer promised that it would create better economic conditions for big companies in Bolivia. Part of this plan included privatizing the nation’s water, and the winner of the secret contract for this project was Bechtel. Later the Banzer government made it illegal for people to collect rainwater.
Bechtel began to charge over 60 percent more than the price of water before privatization. The cost of water made it almost impossible for many Bolivians to raise a family. Bechtel’s greed sparked a revolt – thousands rioted in the streets and Bechtel was forced to withdraw. Today Bechtel is suing Bolivia through the World Trade Organization for damages resulting from its failed plan.
Corporations like Bechtel prove that capitalism cannot and will not be reformed. To make a profit corporations will literally starve impoverished citizens to death. To appeal to stockholders, corporations will build chemical plants for dictators who are using chemical weapons against women and children.
These same corporations have enough power to decide where U.S. bombs should be dropped and then get contracts to rebuild the destroyed area.
This “legal” criminal behavior by Bechtel and other corporations should be at the top of our list of today’s corporate crimes.
Teddy Wood is a student in Santa Cruz, Calif. He can be reached at Scsk8er35@cs.com