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11/19/2013

Spain 2: Human Rights 0

LaRoja

Spain wins African "friendly," but questions remain. (Victor R. Caivano/AP.)

It was only a soccer game. (Only a soccer game ... ?) But still.

On the home side, we have the miniscule West Africa nation of Equatorial Guinea, a steamy, tropical territory that consists of a small island off the coast of Cameroon – site of the capital, Malabo – plus a chunk of mainland real estate shoe-horned between Cameroon and Gabon.

Thanks to the fairly recent discovery of offshore oil, the former Spanish colony is now a very wealthy place, but most of that wealth is concentrated in the hands of lifetime President Teodoro Nguema Mbasogo and his cronies, mostly fellow members of the Fang tribe.

The president seized power in a 1979 coup that featured the execution of the previous president – Nguema Mbasogo’s uncle – who was generally acknowledged to have been a homicidal lunatic.

That brings us to Nguema Mbasogo’s son, a rap-loving playboy named Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, who recently managed to avoid conviction on a range of corruption charges brought against him in a California court.

The U.S. indictment – officially known as “U.S. v. one white crystal-covered ‘Bad Tour’ glove and other Michael Jackson memorabilia” – charged that Nguema Obiang accumulated some $315 million worth of luxury goods in the U.S. from 2004 to 2011, allegedly in violation of his own country’s laws. The loot included a beachfront home in Malibu that was valued at $30 million, plus a $38.5 million Gulfstream G-V jet, a Bentley Azure, and a Lamborghini Murcielago, plus a selection of Michael Jackson keepsakes, including that white crystal-covered glove.

What else?

Oh, yes. Equatorial Guinea – population 700,000 – has an appalling human rights record.

But back to the soccer match.

On the visitors’ side … Spain!

Although nowadays enduring some serious economic travails, Spain is a highly developed Western European country, whose national soccer team – known as La Roja – is ranked Number One on the planet.

Meanwhile, Equatorial Guinea’s squad has a ranking of – let’s see here – oh: 119 in the world.

Why on earth were these two teams playing on the same field (apart from the fact that the national language of both countries is Spanish)?

According to reports in the European media, the answer is more or less what you might expect.

Money.

To be more precise, a lot of money. Exiled Equato-Guinean dissident Severo Moto charges that the African country’s government made a 15 million euro donation to Spanish soccer in order to bring La Roja to Malabo. That comes to $21.3 million Canadian.

The Spanish side’s coach refused to discuss the subject with reporters.

“I won’t answer this question,” said Vicente del Bosque, according to a report by Euronews. “Ask anything else, but I won’t respond to this one.”

Hmm.

As for the game itself, it was closer than you might have expected. Playing this past Saturday, the visitors could do no better than eke out a 2-1 victory.

Must have been the heat.

Oakland Ross is a foreign affairs reporter for the Toronto Star.

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