Hu­man rights likely would take beat­ing un­der Tiller­son

Cecil Whig - - & -

— Pres­i­dent- elect Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to nom­i­nate ExxonMo­bil’s CEO Rex Tiller­son as sec­re­tary of state is sound­ing alarm bells among hu­man rights groups. And there are good rea­sons for it.

Tiller­son, 64, who like Trump has no gov­ern­ment ex­pe­ri­ence, is best known for his close ties with Rus­sia’s au­thor­i­tar­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, who awarded him the Krem­lin’s Or­der of Friend­ship prize in 2013.

As an life­time Exxon em­ployee, Tiller­son has be­friended some of the world’s worst hu­man rights of­fend­ers — in­clud-

MI­AMI

ing Saudi Ara­bia, Qatar and Ecu­a­to­rial Guinea — as part of his mis­sion to find lu­cra­tive oil ex­plo­ration or ex­trac­tion deals abroad. It is of­ten said that oil ex­ec­u­tives are not guided by ide­ol­ogy, but by ge­ol­ogy, and Tiller­son may be a poster boy for that say­ing.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, a hu­man rights ad­vo­cacy group, said that Tiller­son’s nom­i­na­tion is “deeply trou­bling and could un­der­mine hu­man rights in the U.S. and abroad.” Hu­man Rights Watch, an­other ad­vo­cacy group, said that un­der Tiller­son, Exxon “has been hos­tile to U. S. laws re­quir­ing greater fi­nan­cial trans­parency and stronger hu­man rights stan­dards for com­pa­nies — laws that the State Depart­ment has sup­ported.”

Much of Tiller­son’s rise to cor­po­rate star­dom was due to his close ties to the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment. In 2011, he signed a huge deal with Rus­sia’s Ros­neft oil com­pany, in which the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment has a ma­jor­ity stake. Putin at­tended the sign­ing cer­e­mony.

Asked about Tiller­son, Trump said his nom­i­nee is “much more than a busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive, he’s a world class player.” In an in­ter­view with Fox News, Trump said that “to me, a great ad­van­tage is he knows many of the play­ers, and he knows them well. He does mas­sive deals with Rus­sia. He does mas­sive deals for the com­pany, not for him­self.”

But will the skills that helped Tiller­son move up the cor­po­rate lad­der at Exxon by cozy­ing up to oil- rich dic­ta­tors help him when it comes to im­ple­ment­ing sanc­tions against Rus­sia for the 2014 inva- sion of Crimea? Will his long ties with rul­ing fam­i­lies in Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar un­der­mine U. S. poli­cies in the Mid­dle East?

Even some key Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors are wor­ried about Tiller­son. “Be­ing a ‘ friend of Vladimir’ is not an at­tribute I am hop­ing for from a Sec­re­tary of State,” tweeted Florida Sen. Marco Ru­bio on Dec. 11.

The Rus­sian strong­man is not only the tar­get of U. S. sanc­tions for in­vad­ing Crimea, but is be­ing ac­cused by U. S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies of hack­ing the re­cent U. S. elec­tions, plant­ing false news re­ports and steal­ing cam­paign e- mails from Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign to pass them on to Wik­iLeaks.

Rep. Eliot En­gel, the rank­ing Demo­crat in the House Com­mit­tee on For­eign Af­fairs, told me in an e- mail that Tiller­son’s Rus- sia con­nec­tion also raises se­ri­ous ques­tions about how Tiller­son would deal with Rus­sia’s in­creas­ing in­flu­ence in Latin Amer­ica. “I fear that a Sec­re­tary Tiller­son could re­duce our ap­proach to a di­verse and vi­brant re­gion to a sin­gu­lar fo­cus on oil pro­duc­tion. This would set us back many years,” En­gel said.

What worries me the most is that Tiller­son wouldn’t help coun­ter­bal­ance Trump’s dis­re­gard for hu­man rights as a U. S. pol­icy prin­ci­ple, which has been up­held by Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions for the past four decades.

Trump said in a June 20 in­ter­view with The New York Times that “I don’t think we have a right to lec­ture” other coun­tries on hu­man rights. Asked specif­i­cally whether that meant that he would not make democ­racy and lib­erty a cor­ner­stone of his for­eign pol­icy, Trump re­sponded, “We need al­lies.”

The idea of a cor­po­rat­edriven U. S. for­eign pol­icy whose only ob­jec­tive is max­i­miz­ing U.S. com­pa­nies’ prof­its — no mat­ter what — has been tried be­fore.

In the 19th and early 20th cen­turies, it led to ques­tion­able U. S. in­ter­ven­tions in Cen­tral Amer­ica on be­half of U. S. com­pa­nies. But that cre­ated a back­lash that led to the 1959 Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion and a wave of anti- Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments in the re­gion. With­out a hu­man rights- con­scious sec­re­tary of state, Trump is likely to re­peat the mis­takes of the past.

An­dres Op­pen­heimer is a colum­nist for the Mi­ami Her­ald. Readers may email him at aop­pen­heimer@mi­ami­her­ald. com.

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