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With Friends Like These . . .
Condoleezza Rice's inglorious moment

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

WITH A LAND mass similar to Maryland's, Equatorial Guinea has the fortune to be Africa's third-largest oil producer. The money from black gold helps to explain how the president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, has bought large homes in France and Morocco, as well as two in Potomac, and how his son and presumed heir bought a Lamborghini and two Bentleys during a shopping spree in South Africa. But oil has done little to help Equatorial Guinea's 540,000 people, some 400,000 of whom suffer from malnutrition. Those who are hungry know better than to complain. According to State Department reports, the president's goons have urinated on prisoners, sliced their ears and smeared them with oil to attract stinging ants.

So it is uncontroversial to observe that Mr. Obiang is no friend to his people. But he is a "good friend" of the United States, at least according to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who met with him last week in Washington. "I'm very pleased to welcome the president," Ms. Rice told reporters after the meeting. "Thank you very much for your presence here." Mr. Obiang purred back: "We are extremely pleased and hopeful that this relationship will continue to grow in friendship and cooperation."

In the global rankings of political and civil liberties compiled by Freedom House, only seven countries rate worse than Equatorial Guinea. If President Bush and Ms. Rice want anyone to take their pro-democracy rhetoric seriously, they must stop throwing bouquets to odious dictators. The meeting with Mr. Obiang was presumably a reward for his hospitable treatment of U.S. oil firms, though we cannot be sure since the State Department declined our invitation to comment. But Ms. Rice herself argues that U.S. foreign policy spent too long coddling corruption and autocracy in Arab oil states. Surely she doesn't have a different standard for Africa?

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