“Despite a global outcry over this transparent PR effort by the Equatoguinean government to garner positive publicity for the match, the Spanish team has still chosen to go,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “They have said they will not charge their customary fees and will not be used by the regime; however, as foreign celebrities they have a unique opportunity to use their fame to draw attention to the appalling human rights abuses in Equatorial Guinea, a country that currently has at least a dozen political prisoners in jail,” Halvorssen continued.
The Spanish national team, the reigning world and European champion, was originally scheduled to play in either Angola or Gabon en route to a match in South Africa. These plans suddenly changed last week when Francisco Pascual Obama Asue, the Equatoguinean youth and sports minister, announced that the team had agreed to play in Equatorial Guinea without any compensation, due to the “excellent cultural relations of friendship” between the two nations. After facing charges of whitewashing the Obiang dictatorship by the international press, the team released a statement on Thursday saying that they will not pose for photos with government officials nor leave their hotel except to play in the match. The team will be housed in Sipopo, the massive $830 million dollar resort built using state oil profits.
The tiny country of Equatorial Guinea has been ruled by President Obiang since he seized power in a coup in 1979. Despite a GDP per capita of $30,233, rivaling that of European nations like Italy, the average Equatoguinean citizen lives on less than $2 per day. The country ranks 163 out of 174 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. The regime controls all media and routinely jails and tortures its political opponents to crush dissent.
“This is the African equivalent of a European sports team visiting North Korea to entertain the government elite,” said Tutu Alicante, founder of EG Justice, the only human rights organization focusing solely on human rights violations in Equatorial Guinea. “And Obiang has a long history of using paid agents to whitewash his numerous crimes, corruption, and tattered image.”
In 2012, HRF and EG Justice joined forces to expose the paid PR efforts of the Sullivan Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, in Equatorial Guinea. Obiang’s government funded and hosted the organization’s Sullivan Summit, which claimed to promote human rights and good governance in Africa. Thanks to HRF and EG Justice’s efforts, three-quarters of the invitees refused to attend, and the resulting event was a PR disaster for both the Obiang regime and the Sullivan Foundation, which closed its doors soon after.
“In a dictatorship, it is impossible to separate art, culture, and sports from politics. Boycotts are a symbolic rejection of that government,” said Halvorssen. “During South Africa’s apartheid era international sports teams, such as rugby, were instrumental in freezing out the apartheid regime. If a boycott isn’t feasible the key is to marshal creativity and moral witness in the service of the struggle for individual rights and human dignity. It is the decent thing to do.”
HRF is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that protects and promotes human rights globally, with an expertise in the Americas. We believe that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes human rights advocates George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Garry Kasparov, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.
Jamie Hancock, Human Rights Foundation, firstname.lastname@example.org
Vicente Del Bosque, manager of the Spanish national team, @vicentedlbosque