Meet Enron, Bush's Biggest Contributor
by Pratap Chatterjee
Early last October, members of the ninth grade girls' track team and the boys' football team at suburban Houston's Deer Park High School's north campus returned from practice reporting severe breathing problems. That day, Deer Park registered 251 parts of ozone per billion, more than twice the federal standard, and Houston surpassed Los Angeles as the smoggiest city in the United States.
One of the biggest contributors to Deer Park's pollution is a plant owned by Enron, Houston's wealthiest company. Enron and its executives are also the single largest contributors ($550,000 and counting) to the political ambitions of Texas Governor George W. Bush, Republican candidate for President of the United States. Kenneth Lay, the chief executive of Enron, has personally given at least $250,000 in soft money to Bush's political campaigns. He is also one of the "Pioneers"--a Bush supporter who has collected $100,000 in direct contributions of $1,000 or less.
What is Enron? And what does it get in return for this largesse?
Enron is the largest buyer and seller of natural gas in the country. Its 1999 revenues of $40 billion make it the eighteenth largest company in the United States. Enron invests in energy projects in countries around the world, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mozambique, and the Philippines.
The company has recently expanded onto the Internet, buying and selling a dizzying array of products ranging from pulp and paper to petrochemicals and plastics, as well as esoteric products like clean air credits that utilities purchase to meet emission limits.
Texas activists say that the tight connection between Bush and Lay bodes ill if Bush is elected. Andrew Wheat, from Texans for Public Justice, a campaign finance advocacy group in Austin, compares the symbiotic relationship between Enron and the governor to "cogeneration"--a process used by utilities to harness waste heat vented by their generators to produce more power. "In a more sinister form of cogeneration, corporations are converting economic into political power," he says. "A Bush election fueled by Enron dollars could ignite in the public policy arena, and consumers would get burned."
And so may people in the Third World.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both criticized Enron for colluding with police who brutally suppressed protests at the company's giant power plant in western India. The plant's operating firm is called the Dabhol Power Company. From 1992 to 1998, Enron owned 80 percent of it, with General Electric and Bechtel each holding a 10 percent share. (In 1998, the Indian state electricity board bought a 30 percent share of the company, which reduced Enron's stake to 50 percent.)
For years, the plant has been the site of many nonviolent protests.
"The project has met with opposition from local people and activists from elsewhere in India on the grounds of its social, economic, and environmental impact," Amnesty wrote in a July 1997 report. "Protesters and activists have been subjected to harassment, arbitrary arrest, preventive detention under the ordinary criminal law, and ill treatment. Amnesty International considers those who have been subjected to arrest and temporary periods of imprisonment as a result of undertaking peaceful protest to be prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression."
Amnesty's report found that "women, who have been at the forefront of local agitation, appear to have been a particular target."
Just before dawn on June 3, 1997, police stormed the homes of several women. "The policemen forcibly opened the door and dragged me out of the house into the police van parked on the road. (While dragging me) the police kept beating me on my back with batons. The humiliation meted out to the other members of my family was similar to the way I was humiliated. . . . My one-and-a-half-year-old daughter held on to me but the police kicked her away," says Sugandha Vasudev Bhalekar--a twenty-four-year-old housewife who was three months pregnant at the time of her arrest, according to Amnesty's report. Amnesty found that another pregnant woman was beaten and several other women sustained injuries, including bruising, abrasions, and lacerations on arms and legs.
Amnesty said the police involved in suppressing protests included "the Special Reserve Police [SRP] on the site of the company." It added: "The involvement of the SRP in the harassment of protesters indicates the need for the three U.S. multinationals participating in the joint venture to take steps to ensure that all the management and staff of the DPC [Dabhol Power Company]--in particular, any security staff subcontracted to, seconded to, or employed by the company--are trained in human rights and are fully accountable for their actions."
A January 1999 investigation by Human Rights Watch came to a stronger conclusion. "Human Rights Watch believes that the Dabhol Power Corporation and its parent company Enron are complicit in these human rights violations," it said. "The company, under provisions of law, paid the abusive state forces for the security they provided to the company. These forces, located adjacent to the project site, were only stationed there to deal with protests. In addition, contractors (for DPC) engaged in a pattern of harassment, intimidation, and attacks on individuals opposed to the Dabhol Power project. . . . The Dabhol Power Corporation refused to acknowledge that its contractors were responsible for criminal acts and did not adequately investigate, condemn, or cease relationships with these individuals."
Enron denies any wrongdoing. "While we respect the mission of Human Rights Watch, we do not feel that its report on the Dabhol Power project is accurate," says an Enron spokesperson. "The report refers to peaceful protests, when, in fact, the reason the police were positioned near our site is that there have been many acts of violence against our employees and contractors. Dabhol Power Company has worked hard to promote positive relations with the community. Unfortunately, the good relationship we have built with a large percentage of the community was not reflected in the report. Enron is committed to providing energy and communications services while preserving the human rights of citizens and our workers."
Enron has also raised a stink in Bolivia with its involvement in the Cuiab