May 22, 2001
Only in this exciting new age of global capitalism could questions about whether the government of some sadsack African shithole killed a handful of their own citizens could set Canadian gazillionaire Peter Munk’s Barrick Gold Corp. on the libel warpath.
The source of Barrick’s pique was a piece in the London Observer last November which made much of Barrick’s $148,000 contribution to the Republicans to elect George W. Bush, and of course, the corp’s numerous dealings with his daddy, The Real George Bush.
The enormously profitable acquisition by Barrick of government-owned property containing some $10-billion worth of gold in the last days of Bush’s presidency was juxtaposed with George Sr.’s subsequent appointment to the board of Barrick, and international adventures in the gold trade thereafter.
The Observer also reheated tired old tattle about Barrick’s close brush with snatching the ill-fated Busang site in Indonesia from Bre-X, until Suharto saw fit to hand the rights to Freeport McMoran:
“Jim-Bob Moffett, the tough, old, Louisiana swamp dog who heads Freeport-McMoRan Mining, had a private meeting with his old benefactor Suharto. At the end of the meeting, Jim-Bob and the dictator stood on the steps of the presidential palace to announce that Freeport-McMoRan would replace Barrick.
([But] the gold find was a hoax. After Jim-Bob learnt he’d been suckered, his company invited geologist De Guzman to talk it over. Sadly, on way to the meeting, De Guzman fell out of a helicopter.)”
Then there’s ex-CIA director Bush sweet-talking Zairian dictator Mobutu into granting Barrick exclusive rights to mine diamonds in northwest Zaire, and the other excellent adventures of Munk and his stable of ex-politicos.
Nothing new here. As readers will recall, Byron Muldoon’s final guest at 24 Sussex was the ubiquitous Mr. Munk, who plunked Byron on the board of Barrick along with Bush for the very simple reason, as he told Peter C. Newman, “He knows every dictator in the world on a first-name basis.”
All business as usual, but what apparently got Barrick’s corporate tits in a tangle was a reference to events in the summer of 1996 at Bulyanhulu in western Tanzania.
The Bulyanhulu project, home of Barrick’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Kahama Mining Corporation Limited, is expected to yield 263,000 ounces of gold this year alone.
The massive project was underwritten with the help of some $200-million in political risk insurance from the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency and Canada’s own Export Development Corporation. You can never be too careful with unstable governments like that of Tanzania, which is why it’s devilishly hard to find out what happened at Bulyanhulu in August 1996.
The site had long been home to small-time independent miners, who eked out an illegal but tolerated existence mining for ore with picks and shovels.
Kahama, gearing up for major excavations, went to court to move the village of claim-jumpers out, but when the pace and direction of the of the deliberations failed to satisfy, they grew impatient. Although the Tanzanian High Court had issued an emergency injunction, preventing the eviction of the independent miners until the matter had been settled, on or about August 4, 1996, the Tanzanian police moved in anyway and started clearing out the locals. During the course of the operation, something awful happened, or didn’t, according to who you talk to.
According numerous eyewitness accounts and a subsequent report by Amnesty International, up to 50 miners who attempted to hide from government forces in an open pit mine were simply buried alive by excavation equipment.