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Post Charles Taylor and Firestone
Created by John Eipper on 11/21/14 7:52 AM

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Charles Taylor and Firestone (Massoud Malek, USA, 11/21/14 7:52 am)

In 1980 a military coup led by eventual president Samuel Doe killed and disemboweled President Tolbert of Liberia in his bed while he slept. This marked the beginning of political and economic instability and two successive civil wars in that nation.

Charles Taylor is a former politician who was the 22nd President of Liberia, serving from 1997 until 2003. During his term in office, Taylor was accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity as a result of his involvement in the Liberia and the Sierra Leone Civil Wars (1991-2002).

In 2012, at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Reading the sentencing statement, the presiding Judge said: "The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history."

Following the 1980 military coup led by Samuel Doe, Taylor was put in charge of the government bureau responsible for procurement. When he was accused by Doe of embezzlement, Taylor fled to the US, where he was eventually jailed.

After Taylor managed to escape custody and make his way back to Liberia (via Libya), he quickly began building an army, mainly consisting of heavily armed, unskilled boys, often from neighboring nations like Sierra Leone.

On November 18, Frontline and ProPublica unveiled "Firestone and the Warlord," an investigation of the secret relationship between the American tire company Firestone and Taylor.

Firestone ran the plantation that Taylor used to direct the October 1992 assault on Monrovia. In operation since 1926, the rubber plantation was considered to be the largest of its kind in the world.

Firestone wanted Liberia for its rubber. Taylor wanted Firestone to help with his rise to power. At a pivotal meeting in Liberia's jungles in July 1991, the company agreed to do business with the warlord. The company signed a deal in 1992 to pay taxes to Taylor's rebel government. In return, Taylor's forces provided security to the plantation that allowed Firestone to produce rubber and safeguard its assets and pay lower export taxes that gave the company a financial break on rubber shipments.

For Taylor, the relationship with Firestone was about more than money. It helped provide him with the political capital and international legitimacy he needed.

While Firestone used the plantation for the business of rubber, Taylor used it for the business of war. Taylor turned storage centers and factories on Firestone's rubber farm into depots for weapons and ammunition. He housed himself and his top ministers in Firestone homes. He also used communications equipment on the plantation to broadcast messages to his supporters, propaganda to the masses and instructions to his troops.

Charles Taylor and Firestone are responsible for the second phase of Liberia's civil war that lasted a decade. More than 200,000 people died or suffered terrible injuries, most of them civilians--limbs hacked off, eyes gouged out. Half the country's population became refugees.

The full story can be read here:


JE comments:  It's been a long time since Charles Taylor came up on WAIS, but the accusations of Firestone's complicity in genocide deserve further discussion.  I am reminded of the controversy surrounding IBM and the WWII Holocaust.

Rubber plantations are notorious sites of human rights abuses.  This is the central theme of an iconic Latin American novel, La vorágine (1924), by the Colombian José Eustasio Rivera.

Taylor, who will probably spend the rest of his life in prison, is one of the most unsavory dictators of modern times.  And the name sounds so benign:  Chuck Taylor Converse All-Star sneakers (no relation) are one of the most beloved brands of the last hundred years.

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  • Charles Taylor and Firestone (Randy Black, USA 11/22/14 4:17 AM)

    In his 21 November post, Massoud Malek reprinted a script from a PBS broadcast that recently ran on Frontline, a respected PBS feature. The story seems to paint the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. in a negative light with regards to their rubber operations in Liberia from about 25 years ago.

    Interestingly, while both Massoud and John Eipper are quick to criticize Firestone, it's notable that Firestone is not even an American-owned company and was not then. Yep, since 1988, the American institution has been part of Japan's Bridgestone Corporation. Coincidentally, the Liberian troubles, some true, some a stretch of the truth, seem to have originated during those times. Why is not Bridgestone getting the heat?

    While the reprint of the Frontline broadcast is very interesting, Massoud apparently did not see the rubber company's written response to Frontline and Pro Publica's questions. I'm of the hope that Massoud simply overlooked "the rest of the story," which changes the picture to a great extent.

    Principally, Firestone's answers to ProPubica's 10 questions negates much of the information in the broadcast on the premise that they were held at gunpoint by Charles Taylor's bandits. The firm's management in Africa only cooperated to the extent that they did in order to survive and keep their 70,000 employees and their families housed, fed, educated, safe and healthy.

    Moreover, all during this time of occupation by the rebel forces, Firestone continued to feed 70,000 of its employees and their families on a daily basis, to provide free housing, subsidized food, free education in 27 company-built schools, provide ongoing paid vacations and retirement pensions.

    Plus, they did something that other African countries have struggled to do: they built a 23-bed hospital, The Firestone Medical Center, equipped it, trained staff to treat patients and stopped Ebola in that region, something others elsewhere in Africa have struggled to accomplish. Just so you'll know, Ebola has been an issue in Africa for more than 30 years.

    Additionally, Firestone provided "Gerald Padmore, its consultant in Liberia in the early 1990s, to be interviewed by ProPublica and Frontline" without restrictions.

    At least Frontline and Pro Publica allowed a bit of balance to the debate by adding Firestone's response.

    Had I not delved into the this matter, I might have fallen for Massoud's highly slanted post.

    Final trivia: I played several rounds of golf with Leonard K. Firestone, son of company founder Harvey Firestone, in the 1969-1970 time frame. I was a young golf pro fresh out of college and my boss at Eldorado Country Club in Indian Wells, California insisted that the golf staff play with the members on a weekly basis.

    I recall that Mr. Firestone, who was in his early 60s back then, was a classy gentleman who played a good game of golf. He told me that he played golf for Princeton in the 1930s. I did not know but discovered today that he was ambassador to Belgium under Nixon and Ford by 1974, and later was Gerald and Betty Ford's next-door neighbor in Rancho Mirage, CA, just up the road from Indian Wells. It's a nice memory that reminds me how lucky I was to have met so many interesting people.


    JE comments: Regarding Firestone, all I wrote was "the accusations of Firestone's complicity in genocide deserve further discussion." It's my job to ask for further discussion.

    But...even if Firestone/Bridgestone is a good citizen now, this was not the case historically.  Firestone signed a deal in 1926 to lease a million acres in Liberia, at six cents an acre, and it is still the largest contiguous rubber plantation in the world.  The company also granted the Liberian government a $5 million loan, which saddled that nation with a crushing interest burden at least until 1952.  Not to mention the accusations of child labor (as late as 2006) and other abuses.

    See:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firestone_Natural_Rubber_Company

    Shades of United Fruit in Honduras.

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