‘A Slap in the Face’

Teodoro Obiang has been in power in Equatorial Guinea since 1979 Teodoro Obiang has been in power in Equatorial Guinea since 1979

This year’s parade by the Beija-Flor samba school, which won the Rio de Janeiro Carnival competition with a tribute to Equatorial Guinea, was received by the country’s activists like a ‘slap in the face’.

The country has Africa’s highest GDP per capita, explained by the intense oil drilling in the country since the mid-1990s. This economic development, however, has not produced any significant social progress. Equatorial Guinea ranks in 144th place among 187 countries in the UN Human Development Index and charges of corruption and human rights violations are common.

This is why the samba school’s parade, allegedly sponsored by the Obiang government, was considered “humiliating” to the country’s activists. Tutu Alicante, executive director of EG Justice, an organization that promotes human rights in Equatorial Guinea, spoke to Conectas. Read the interview below:

Conectas – What was your reaction to the Beija Flor samba school’s parade in tribute to Equatorial Guinea?

Tutu Alicante – It was horrible, humiliating, a slap in the face to my country’s people. I’ve got nothing against Brazilians dancing and having fun, but it’s not right to do this with the money of poor people who have no education, health care or freedom to complain about these shortages. What’s worse, it conveys the image that everything is just fine in the country, when it isn’t.

C – What are the main problems?

TA – We have a dictator, Teodoro Obiang, who has been in power for more than three decades, who represses any dissidence with an iron fist, helped by the money coming from the recent boom in oil exploration. To give you an idea, people inside the country have no idea what happened. There was practically no mention of the parade in the local press, which is all controlled by the government.

C – In addition to the suspension of the death penalty, another condition for Equatorial Guinea to join the CPLP (Community of Portuguese Language Countries), in 2014, was a greater integration of civil society in the organization’s activities. Has this been happening?

TA – Not at all. There is no room for civil society to work inside Equatorial Guinea (Note: EG Justice is based in New York because it is practically impossible for human rights NGOs to work inside the country).

If, for example, you ask to stage a small and peaceful protest, you’d never get permission, and if you went ahead with it, you could be arrested. Activists there cannot use the internet freely because it is censored and access is limited. So that leaves text messages and telephone calls.

About the moratorium on the death penalty, this has not occurred. No bill was ever submitted and unofficial executions still take place.

In short, the Obiang government is in too comfortable a position. It faces no internal opposition like some countries in the Middle East or any real external pressure.

C – What do you expect in the near future?

TA – Actually, with the recent enormous oil revenues, Obiang has the means to stay in power and prepare the transition of power to his son Teodorin who, if nothing happens, will be the next president.

He has been spending a great deal of money to convey a positive image abroad. And in the local press, it is common to see photos of him with leaders such as Obama or Rousseff.

This is why it’s necessary for other countries to know what is happening. And Brazil, as a power that supported Equatorial Guinea’s entry into the CPLP, can exert some influence. I don’t expect Beija-Flor to renounce the prize it won, but I hope that Brazilians prefer to side with my country’s people than with its corrupt and oppressive government.

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