Post from Monday, December 20, 2010
“Here in Azerbaijan we believe inÂ human rights.Â PLEASE GIVE US YOURÂ FILM.”
Oh, no, no, not good.
The enforcers here come in three colors:Â Â the military police still wearing theirÂ old Russian puke-green uniforms, the MSN (the dictator’s secret police) inÂ windbreakers without ID, and BP’s own corporateÂ police force in black tunics,Â sashes and full hats who look like toy soldiers from the Nutcracker ballet.Â They weren’t dancing.
I showed all three flavors of police our press credentialsÂ in both English and Azeri, neither of which could be read by the officers.Â (The dictator had suddenlyÂ changed the Azeri alphabet, making most ofÂ the nation illiterate overnight.)
The dictator made everyone call him, “Baba,”Â Grandpa.
I told the dumbest-looking one, “Look here:Â This paper says your so-calledÂ President is a weasel’s rectum,” which our ‘fixer’ translated as,Â “This letter from Foreign Ministry is authorization to make aÂ documentaryÂ for the British Television.”
We’d been surreptitiously filming BP’s cancer-makingÂ machine, the giant pipeline terminal near Baku, the capital, that sendsÂ Azeri’s Caspian Sea oil eastward to light Europe’s Christmas trees.
Now, it looked like I’d be spending Christmas in Baba’sÂ dungeon licking rats for breakfast.Â My clown-show antics bought the crew the precious minutes needed toÂ switch the film in the camera to blanks.Â Â Our cameraman told a BP cop, with mime:Â “Hadn’t begun filming yet, Old Bean.”
We would now.Â IÂ clicked on my hidden micro-cam.
A black SUV arrived on the remote desert track and unloadedÂ its impressive cargo, a colonel sprinkled with medals from the recent warÂ Azerbaijan lost to Armenia.Â TheÂ colonel said, “British PetroleumÂ drives this country,” and as aÂ “British” journalist, he thought I’d be as proud of that fact as heÂ is.
“I know,” I said.Â “Believe me, I know.”
There is an awful lot of evidence that BP and Britain’s MI6Â hadÂ their hands in Baba’s 1993 coup d’Ã©tat which overthrew the nation’s electedÂ president.Â Within months of takingÂ power, Baba signed “TheÂ Contract of the Century” giving BP monopolyÂ control of Azerbaijan’s Caspian reserves.”
Baba headed the KGB when this Islamic land was an occupiedÂ “republic” of the Soviet Union, the good old days of relative peace,Â freedom and prosperity.
I was here in the desert to investigate a tip-off I’d hadÂ that BP had covered up a near-disaster at its Caspian offshore rig that wasÂ extraordinarily similar to the Deepwater Horizon blow-out.Â But BP coveredÂ it up.
What I didn’t know was that WikiLeaks was about to release aÂ State Department memo which referred to a small piece of this BP game. RatherÂ than go to Azerbaijan to check the facts, the WikiÂ newspapersÂ called BPÂ in London for comment.
That put BP on high alert and my sources in high danger.
So the Baba-BP police were more than curious about our filmÂ which we promised was about nothing more than, “the business boom inÂ Central Asia.” Of course, we didn’t add that the only businessÂ booming hereÂ is corruption and BP’s oil drilling.Â (I don’t use the plural here because it is a single industry.)
How the crew and I (and the poor shepherd on a little horseÂ swept up with us) were released is a complex story involving an impromptuÂ banquet with the Secret Police and the poignant recanting of aÂ statement aboutÂ BP made to us by an environmental activist.
I understood his need to back down. The night before, weÂ dined with a young video blogger who’d just gotten out of prison after theÂ current president (now Baba’s son, Baby Baba), saw the blogger hold aÂ pressÂ conference in a donkey suit.Â TheÂ President had no doubt that he was the ass.Â He was.Â He is.
Welcome to the Islamic Republic of BP, otherwise known asÂ Azerbaijan.Â And good-bye.
I’m out of there.Â Out with the evidence we need about BP and how it lead to the Gulf ofÂ Mexico blow-out and an extension of the occupation of Iraq.
It’s a hell of a story, and my holiday gift to myself isÂ that I’m here and ready to tell it.
My best wishes to you and your family.
Won’t you pleaseÂ support this work, the “ArcticÂ to Amazon investigation”?
I need seven more committed folks to make aÂ tax-deductible donation of at leastÂ $1000 to cover the remaining work.Â Donate at least $1,000 and we will,Â with your approval, list you as a co-producer in the video version of thisÂ important film already scheduled for broadcast everywhere but the USA.
And we MUST bring it to America.Â That will require more help for the US production and printÂ reports.Â Â Don’t have $1,000 orÂ $5000?Â Â AllÂ donations to theÂ PalastÂ Investigative Fund are tax-deductibleÂ and keep us going.
We had to leave the secret filming equipment in Baku,Â Azerbaijan’s capital; we were warned by a friend plainclothesman that they knewÂ I had it and needed to ditch it.
I’ve now taken our crew from the Amazon rainforest to BP’sÂ next drilling target above the Arctic Circle, to Africa and now to CentralÂ Asia.Â Â We must now go to heÂ most dangerous locales yet:Â Â deepest darkest Washington DC, and London, home to BP, whose natives areÂ heavily armed with lawyers and PR bullshit.
Please help me drill down to the truth with your taxÂ deductible donation to the Palast Fund.Â Â Donations of $50 or more receive, if you wish, a gift I will sign.Â Â (MakeÂ the request today orÂ tomorrow, Dec. 21, and I’ll send it priority within 12Â hours.)
Three big European networks have combined to cover ourÂ travel costs and some filming; but none have the money to support theÂ deepÂ investigation, the endless hours ofÂ research, that provide the hardÂ facts on which the filming must be based.
Special, exceptional thanks go to the Cloud Mountain andÂ Puffin foundations for their faith in our work and all our 2,000 supporters whoÂ haveÂ sent us donations – and information – on which we survive.
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All … and to all, a goodÂ night.
Greg Palast, reportingÂ from … somewhere safe.
Greg Palast is an investigative journalist and the author of the New York Times bestsellers Armed Madhouse and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. His reports can be seen on BBC Newsnight.