“Do you understand me? Not one tanker. Not one barrel. Not one drop. Nothing.”
Even for a big man further weighted and broadened by a Kevlar vest, he could move pretty quickly. His minister of mines and energy hardly had a chance to draw his breath and open his mouth, before his president was away from his desk and literally in his subordinate’s face.
“Do you understand me?”
“Ye-e-e-s, my commander. Perfectly, I understand perfectly. But …”
“But? There are no ‘buts.’ You will not, under any circumstances, sell one drop of our oil to those fascists. You will tell that to the president of the National Assembly. I want a motion on the floor, voted on, approved, and printed in our official newspaper before the end of the week.”
“Sir, you understand that …”
“What I understand is this: my people will not be trampled on by these imperialist scum. We will see who bends the knee when those mama’s boys have to spend the winter shivering in their cold homes; when gas prices rise to five dollars a gallon, or better yet, when they can’t find any gas to buy.”
The minister could smell the coffee on the man’s breath as his commander-in-chief pushed his face closer to that of his own. The blood began to drain from his head, leaving the official feeling slightly faint. That deepening scowl before him radiated ill will. Others had disappeared for lesser offenses than trying to reason with the president.
“Go, and do it now.”
The international court has just ordered a freeze of all of the national oil company’s assets. Money could go in, but nothing could come out. In retaliation for what he saw as a conspiracy on the part of foreign interests to bring down his government, the president was determined to play the one card he had that his enemies didn’t—the richest oil reserves in the world.
There was one not-so-minor problem. The country ran on the money from that oil.
Much as he feared the consequences, the hapless functionary returned to the president’s office to try again. Surely, for the good of those he so easily named his compatriots, he would be magnanimous.
“Mr. President, I have carried out your orders. The National Assembly will discuss your proposal and you should have your approval by tomorrow night. But, I’m asking you to reconsider.”
The president, sitting behind his gilded mahogany desk and flanked by paintings of his preferred revolutionaries, looked up. The physical force from the look in his eyes pushed his minister of energy one step back.
The man was never more dangerous than he was when he spoke quietly. But it was too late to retreat.
“If we just agree to negotiate with the multinationals and pay them for what we expropriated, I’m sure the court will reconsider and release our assets. Without the money from the oil, we have no purchasing power abroad. We can’t support our programs.”
He didn’t dare remind his leader that his “revolution” and its policies had already brought the country to its knees. There were already shortages of food and medicines. The protests in the streets were more numerous and violent every day. Many of those who had faithfully supported this regime since its inception were tired of waiting for the delivery of what had been promised them. How had the flood of money, so generously granted to them from on high, become a trickle by the time it got down to them? The richest country on the continent, violated by its own, was slowly dying for lack of just about everything.
“What is the theme of this revolution?”
“Wh-a-a— Excuse me, Sir?”
“What is the theme of this revolution? Have you forgotten?”
“No, Mr. President, of course not.”
“Fatherland, Socialism, or Death.”
“I will not submit to a court I do not recognize, to foreign companies, or to the governments that control them. I will not allow them to bring me down. I would die a martyr to my cause before I would bow.”
The words slipped out of their own free will.
“But, Sir. It’s not about you.”
A second of silence became an eternity of time.
“What did you say?”
The minister straightened. It would be the third choice. Perhaps not his, probably not that of the man whose gaze now held him crucified. But out there, beyond the walls, wire, and weapons…?
Yes, it would be death.
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