Plácido Micó, considered the leader of the opposition to Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Equatorial Guinea’s president since 1979, was on a political tour to the United States during the last week of January 2012.
When Micó enrolled at his local school for the very first time in his life, Obiang already was someone in the national politics and when he had still to earn his end of secondary education certificate, Obiang was the president of the country. During the approximately twenty years Micó has devoted to political activity, he has visited Obiang’s prisons and has been tortured by his security agents.
As the top leader of Convergencia Para la Democracia Social (CPDS – Convergence for Social Democracy), the defection of another party leader, who joined Obiang’s Partido Democrático de Guinea Ecuatorial (PDGE – Equatorial Guinea’s Democratic Party), stands out as one of the main setbacks he has suffered.
Unfortunately, this has not been the only case, another opponent, who used to introduce himself as “the only university doctor of Philosophy in the whole country”, is known nowadays as the only doctor of Philosophy sold out to Obiang.
Both turncoats are now ministers in Obiang’s government, the last one of Education and Science.
The PDGE has 99 seats at the Cámara de Representantes del Pueblo (national parliament), which has 100, while CPDS has one, occupied by Micó.
On the other hand, Micó and Obiang have got their education in Spain, a country both also visit from time to time, together with the United States, although they do not enjoy the same treatment by their respective authorities.
Spanish former Foreign Minister Trinidad Jiménez with Teodoro Obiang in Malabo, on 30/06/2011
... and with Plácido Micó the next day
According to the last CPDS communiqué, its “General Secretary and member of parliament Plácido Micó, travels to the US invited by the State Department. During his visit he will hold conversations with some of its officials, Senate members and House of Representatives, as well as several leaders of non governmental organizations and organizations and groups with interests in Equatorial Guinea.”
The communiqué also informs about the goals of the visit: “this intense diplomatic (sic) activity aims to inform firsthand political leaders and international institutions about the stalemate –almost a backing down- of the political process in Equatorial Guinea, and to ask the international community for a greater support and involvement in order to push that political process forward and lead it towards a true democracy in Equatorial Guinea.”
The trip is not a première. In December 2005 CPDS made public that “Plácido Micó, Celestino Bacale (one of the defectors) and Pablo Mbá left Malabo (the capital city) and arrived at Madrid (Spain) where they met the Spanish deputy minister of Foreign Affairs. Then, they left for the US to meet Jane C. Gaffney, Departament of State official in charge of Africa. Gaffney gathered sound information on the political, social and economic situation in Equatorial Guinea, its relationship with the region, the opposition plan for the transition to democracy and the role the US could play in this respect.”
The 2005 trip was not either: “in 2002 and 2003, CPDS delegations went to the US and to Europe around the time presidential elections were held in Equatorial Guinea in 2002.”
Neither were those: “there were some other previous visits: CPDS leaders have joined the State Department programme for social and political leaders of countries that are in transition to democracy, aimed to teach them more closely how American democratic institutions work. CPDS General Secretary went to the US in 2000.”
To sum up: it looks like the role of the opposition leader Micó is to travel to the US (and Spain) to inform about political problems at home and get informed about political solutions from far away.
Obiang travels a lot as well in his role as president, although not mainly to talk. Since he took for himself the oil that US companies extract in Equatorial Guinea –whose owners are all the country’s inhabitants, not only him and his entourage-, he travels to put the money he gets from it in US banks (Riggs), spend it over there (Maryland and Malibu mansions) and appear in pictures together with US and international leaders.
The plot does not look something special, however, some clues make it more interesting.
Micó is used to introduce both CPDS and himself all around the world as “the only non violent opposition in the country”, which may help to explain the invitations he gets to travel to the US and the European Union, as well as Obiang’s disguised satisfaction with both his intentions and the ongoing situation. Micó then proceeds to deplore that situation and ends asking his hosts for help.
“During the conversations the political case was introduced: the persecution of political opponents, the election fraud, the corruption, the misappropriation of wealth linked to the oil industry, the systematic violation of human rights, the manipulation of the state mechanisms; and this was followed by requests of more effective support for the political transition in Equatorial Guinea.”
On the other hand Obiang talks about the progress and happiness brought by his government in the Televisión Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial. In the official web page of la República de Guinea Ecuatorial one can read that “His Excellency Obiang Nguema Mbasogo sent a ‘end of the year’ televised message to the people in the night of the 31st of December of 2011”:
“The peace, quietness, stability, harmony and development that Equatorial Guinea has been enjoying during the past 32 years, is a special benchmark in Africa and a heritage that the whole nation has to maintain and protect”. http://www.guineaecuatorialpress.com/
However, his main activity –together with his relatives- is to enjoy the oil wealth. According to the US magazine Forbes, “after oil was discovered in 1995, Obiang and his government deposited up to $700 million in U.S.’ Riggs Bank, which was fined for not reporting possible money laundering in these and other accounts. The money was later released back to Obiang & Co. and deposited in the Bank of the Central African Monetary Union. Equatorial Guinea’s embassy insists the money belongs to the government, not Obiang personally.”
The rest of the actors play their roles according to Obiang’s and Micó’s. In 2006, the then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said to Obiang: “You are a good friend and we welcome you”. One month earlier the State Department published its annual report on human rights in Equatorial Guinea, which listed cases of “torture, arbitrary detention, judicial corruption, child labor, forced labor and lack of freedom of speech and press.”
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose for a photo during a reception at the Metropolitan Museum in New York with H.E. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, and his wife, Mrs. Constancia Mangue de Obiang, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
It can be safely said that Micó has have enough time in the last 20 years to inform US high officials about the situation in his country, even if the US embassy in Malabo had not supplied Obama with enough information, and even if State Department reports plus those published by United Nations bodies and ngos specialised in human rights were scarce.
Is this last trip then the end of the comedy? Perhaps not, it could be the contrary and there are some signals that could unveil a change from now on:
Obiang’s international image is deteriorating by the day. He knows this only too well and that is why he spends annually hundreds of thousands of dollars in US public relations and lobby firms like Qorvis Communications, led by a former high official of the State Department (naturally).
US custom authorities are after Obiang’s eldest son and proclaimed successor, Teodoro Nguema Obiang, alias Teodorín, who is multi-millionaire and also the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. The charges are money laundering in the US plus extortion, corruption and misuse of public funds in Equatorial Guinea. Also at the end of 2011 French judges seized around half a dozen of his luxury cars and Spanish ones are investigating him for money laundering in Spain.
For Obama it would be a real godsend to have the chance to move any of his campaigns – humanitarian, for democracy, freedom, human rights, security, etc.- to the Gulf of Guinea, the basin of a huge oil and gas reservoir.
However, political instability in the subregion –which includes Nigeria- is not so good for oil companies operating over there and this could be a hurdle for the plan.
Micó could come to the rescue. Besides his pacifist declarations, he is a socialdemocrat and has proved to be a loyal friend of the US plus and admirer of Obama.
He has shown his biblical patience after 20 years asking the US for help and still waiting for it to back him more than it backs Obiang. Above all, he does not speak about nationalizing oil.
Micó has criticised the way Obiang is managing his country’s oil wealth: “increase in corruption, grave violations of human rights, political persecution, ecological damages, Obiang’s mafia connections.” (1)
It is pretty sure that US officials have not informed him about the US –its government and companies- important responsibility in this state of affairs.
He should not forget the imperialistic ways of the US around the world and its recent interventions in other countries, which include the support of dictators to the last minute if necessary and -when it is convenient- changing these for new puppets, more or less disguised as democratic presidents.
One can hardly believe that Micó –and CPDS- thinks that in spite of the 30 year long US support to Obiang, now he will get that support out of love for the human rights of the people of Equatorial Guinea and with no strings attached.
However, sometimes, nature imitates art and politics imitates theatre plays.
(1) Pages 4, 5 and 6 of his lecture “La experiencia de la República de Guinea Ecuatorial”, read in the International Conference held in Sao Tome, 18 and 19 of April, 2005, “La vida con petróleo: experiencias de la sociedad civil en países productores de África.” http://cpds-gq.org/images/stories/petroleo/mico_abril2005.pdf