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Bhopal - little justice 25 years on
THE DEEPWATER Horizon disaster provoked condemnation from Barack Obama who accused it of "nickel and diming" Louisiana residents while paying out billions of dollars to BP shareholders. This shows the pressure the US president is under, particularly after George W Bush's failure to respond to the devastation of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina.
However, the environmental devastation caused by multinational corporations only seems to matter to Obama when it is in the US. The ex-colonial world suffers far more from pollution than do richer capitalist economies. More oil is spilled every year by western oil giants' network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms in Nigeria's Niger delta than that lost since Deepwater Horizon, terrible though the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is.
The chemical industry has its own history of pollution disasters. In 1984, an explosion at the US-owned Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal in India killed over 7,000 people. Since then there have been 15,000 related deaths with 600,000 people affected by the deadly cocktail of cancer-causing chemicals.
Obama demands that BP cleans up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and fully compensates all those affected. Incredibly in Bhopal over 390 metric tonnes of toxic chemicals including mercury and lead remain on the site and are still contaminating the groundwater 25 years later.
A sample of water from a pump in constant use near the plant site contained over 1,000 times the World Health Organisation's recommended amount of carbon tetrachloride, which causes cancer. The area also has a high incidence of birth defects and chronic illnesses.
Union Carbide paid a paltry $470 million to the Indian government in compensation five years later, but only after a determined campaign by Bhopal residents who still demonstrate, calling for the guilty to be punished and for the site to be cleaned up.
Dow Chemicals which took over Union Carbide in 2001 said that this sum settled all present and future claims against the company. The factory was abandoned and the site was subsequently handed over to the state government.
Obama has called for a criminal investigation into the oil rig explosion but in Bhopal, only now have eight managers at the plant been prosecuted and received sentences of two years each for their role in the disaster. However, originally they were charged with culpable homicide, carrying a ten year sentence, but this was downgraded to 'death by negligence'.
Warren Anderson, Union Carbide's chairman at the time and the only non-Indian on trial, did not attend and was not mentioned in the verdict, despite being named by the court as an absconder.
Gulf Coast residents can have no confidence that the oil spill will be effectively dealt with. Five years after Katrina, a quarter of New Orleans has still to be rebuilt. Giant capitalist multinational corporations are reckless in pursuit of profit. Their friends in government will go as far as they can to protect their shareholders' interests and that of global capitalism.
Bhopal shows how far they will go. Working class and poor people need to organise independently and build a mass movement to hold these criminals and profiteers to account and establish a socialist alternative that could guarantee our environment is fit to live in.
In The Socialist 9 June 2010:
National Shop Stewards Network
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party feature
Environment and socialism
News and comment